Star Gazing in January

For the star map click here
For the diary Astronomical Phenomena for January 2013 click here
Indian names are given in italics and in Devnagri

The Great Square of Pegasus, the Flying Horse or the Winged Horse (Maha Ashwa – महअश्व ) is now just above the western horizon. The two leading stars of Pegasus make the 25th nakshatra, Purva Bhadrapada – पूर्वा-भाद्रपदा and the other two make the 26th nakshatra, Uttar Bhadrapada – उत्तरा भाद्रपदा.

To the south-west, but well above the horizon is Cetus, the Whale. Check out the star marked Mira, the Wonderful (Mira – उच्चार = मायरा) . Now you may not be able to identify it with naked eyes because it is too faint. But it does brightens up to the extent that it becomes visible to the naked eyes. It is a long period variable star. Check this wiki link.

Right overhead, but slightly to the west are Aries, the Ram (Mesh – मेश ) and Triangulum, the Triangle. The brighter of the two in Aries is Hamal. This star is about 75 light years from us. Together with the fainter one, Sheratan, Hamal forms our first nakshatra Ashwini अश्विनी.

Moving further down towards the horizon you can see Andromeda (Devayani – देवयानी). This constellation houses one the nearest galaxies to our own the Milky Way galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy. It is marked as M31 on the map. This galaxy can be spotted easily in using a pair of binocular if you live in a light polluted city. But if you are in outskirts were the skies are dark you need no optical aid to look at this object.

Look a bit to its right and below and you should be able to spot Cassiopeia (Sharmishtha – शर्मिष्ठा). This constellation has a beautiful double cluster of stars called h&χ (chi).

We again turn our attention back to the sky overhead where we have Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, the Bull (Vrishabha – वृषभ). It is our 3rd Nakshatra Krittika – कृत्तिका.

Now face east and once again look right overhead. Can you spot a cluster of stars in ‘V’ shape? It is Hyades cluster with a bright red star at one tip of the ‘V’. This star is Aldebaran (Rohini – रोहिणी ).

Further down and to north and south you can identify Auriga, the Charioteer (भूतप) and Orion, the Hunter (मृग) . We talked about Orion last month.

Let us move further down towards the eastern horizon.

Here we have Gemini, the Twins (Mithuna – मिथुन). You will notice a parallelogram marked by dashed lines. We call this grouping ‘Gateway of Heavens’. Path of the sun lies halfway between two stars of Gemini and Canis Minor. The stars are Castor, Pollux, Procyon and Gomaisa. We see that all the planets and the Moon cross through this parallelogram.

Let us now turn our attention to south. You can see a very bright star Sirius (Vyadh – व्याध), shining brilliantly. It is the brightest star visible from Earth after the sun has set, for sun is also a star. This star belongs to Canis Major constellation.

In the south-east you can see two constellations Carina, the Keel and Puppis, the Vail are rising above the horizon. Canopus (Agastya – आगस्त्य) is the second brightest stars in the sky.

Let us now turn our attention to those objects marked by ‘M’ on the map.

M42 is a huge cloud of gas where star birth is taking place. This object, also called the Great Orion Nebula, looks beautiful in telescope of any size. Object M35, M41, M44 and M67 are all clusters of stars. These objects can be seen using a pair of binoculars. Under the clear skies M35 and M44 are visible to the naked eyes. M44 is Pushya Nakshatra पुश्य नक्षत्र.

Having made yourself familiar with the patterns on the sky now look for Algol in Perseus. Brightness of this star changes very periodically. Every two days or so the starlight fades almost by half in just about five hours. Then in next five hours it regains its original brightness and then remains so for then two days and 20 hours.

Sky and Telescope site has a very nice page for finding out times of Minima of Algol. (You will have to open and account at their site if you do not have one.)

Before we end this month’s observations let also pay attention to three constellations about to make their appearance in the sky.

Ursa Major, the Big Bear (Saptarishis – सप्तर्षि) is half above the north-eastern horizon. This the prime constellation used for finding north in the night.

And then we have Leo, the Lion (Simha – सिंह) and Hydra, the Water Snake (कालेय), rising above the eastern horizon. Regulus (Magha – मघा) is one of the Royal stars. Alpharad (वासुकि ह्रदय) in Hydra means the lonely one a very appropriate name for it for in this direction of the sky there are no other brighter stars.


About skytonight

I am the present Director of Nehru Planetarium of Nehru Centre Mumbai, India I like to talk about astronomy and sky observations to general public.
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