For those outdoors early Sunday morning, the crescent moon appears close to the ringed-planet Saturn. The two are in the zodiacal constellation Libra and rise at about 3 a.m.
The sky in the east will be even prettier on Thursday when a thin crescent moon appears low in the southeastern sky near the bright planet Venus. The sight will be short-lived. The best time to see the two is not much earlier than 5 a.m. Sunrise is a few minutes after 7 a.m. The new moon is Friday, Jan. 11.
Stargazing in January
The best part about January for stargazing is the brilliance of the stars overhead. It is true that there are brighter stars in the winter sky than in the summer. If you step outside at 9 p.m. and look up, you’ll see some of the brightest stars in our visible sky.
The brightness of the stars makes constellations easier to pick out. Even the Milky Way is overhead.
Constellations like Orion the hunter, Taurus the bull and Gemini the twins are among the easiest constellations to find. Overhead is Cassiopeia, the queen. Most are familiar with that constellation more as a large letter “w” in the sky. Cassiopeia is always in the Northern sky and is opposite the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is rising in the Northeast.
While there are certainly exceptions, most of the stars overhead in January are relatively close, which leads to their bright appearance. Astronomers measure the distance of stars in light years, which is based on the amount of time it takes light to travel in a year, about six trillion miles.
The brightest star in the sky, Sirius, is to our South and located just 8.6 light years away, fairly close in our neighborhood. Rigel, a bright star in Orion, is 772 light years away, but it too is still relatively close compared with so many stars in the night sky.
One of the brightest stars in Gemini, Castor, is 50 light years away. Pollux, the brightest star in Gemini, is 34 light years away.
The stars mentioned above seem unimaginably far away and yet, if we think of the sky overhead as a community they are actually the stars of our neighborhood.
|Fri., Jan. 4||7:08||4:24|
|Sat., Jan. 5||7:08||4:25|
|Sun., Jan. 6||7:08||4:26|
|Mon., Jan. 7||7:08||4:27|
|Tues., Jan. 8||7:08||4:28|
|Wed., Jan. 9||7:08||4:29|
|Thurs., Jan. 10||7:08||4:30|
|Fri., Jan. 11||7:07||4:31|
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Water temperature in Edgartown harbor: 37º F.