Our Friendly Skies - January 2013

December 31, 2012|By CHRIS KOPKO/William Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER/Tristate Astronomers
  • The All-Sky Chart for January 2013
Tristate Astronomers


Happy New Year! Winter has officially arrived and that means plenty of hours of darkness to study the skies! Let’s begin by finding some of the bright stars that can be seen up in the sky this month.

First, look to the east, the direction in which the sun rises in the morning. From here, turn just a little to your right to face southeast. There you will find the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, just above the horizon.

Sirius marks the tag on the collar of the dog Canis Major. His brother, Canis Minor, can be found to the north of Sirius, just on the other side of the band of the Milky Way running southeast to northwest.

Look for a bright star, called Procyon, with a slightly dimmer star just to the west of it. These two stars are the main stars of Canis Minor. The dogs’ master is easy to spot here in the sky as well.

Look northwest from Sirius and find three stars in a row that make up the belt of Orion the Hunter. To the north of these three stars you will find the bright red star Betelgeuse along with Bellatrix just to the west of it, which mark the shoulders of Orion.

Just to the west of Bellatrix you can make out the curved shield of Orion. From Betelgeuse you can see his arm extending up into the Milky Way. Now go back to the belt and look just south to spot the legs and sword of the hunter, with the bright star Rigel, marking the bottom of one of his legs.

Finally, look to the west of Orion’s shield to see a “V” shaped group of stars in the sky, called the Hyades. This open star cluster also represents the face of the constellation Taurus the Bull, with the bright star Aldebaran representing one of the eyes of the bull.

Extend up from the tops of the “V” to the north east to find the tips of the bull’s horns. Just to the west of the “V” you’ll find the small cluster of stars known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. This tiny group of stars marks the shoulder of the bull.

For a more detailed tour of the night sky check out Skylights, the monthly podcast tour of the night sky, downloadable at


Evening Planets

MARS will be low on the western horizon this month and will set about two hours after sunset at the beginning of January. By the end of the month, however, Mars will set only about an hour and a half after the sun. At a magnitude of 1.2, Mars can be identified by its orange coloration.

JUPITER will continue to shine brightly in the sky, right next to the “V” shaped Hyades star cluster in Taurus the Bull this month. Jupiter will easily outshine the stars around it at a magnitude of -2.6. Use a pair of binoculars to pick out some of the Galilean moons that revolve around the giant planet, or use a backyard telescope to see the different colored cloud bands of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

NEPTUNE & URANUS can both be observed after sunset, but cannot be seen with the unaided eye. Uranus can be found in Pisces, while Neptune will be in Aquarius closer to the southwestern horizon.

MERCURY will also be in the evening sky, though just briefly this month. You will find Mercury at the very end of the month, just barely above the western horizon, shining at magnitude -1.2.

Morning Planets

VENUS, at magnitude -3.9, will be easy to spot in the early morning hours at the beginning of the month, but will get closer to the southeast horizon as the month wears on.

SATURN will rise in the morning sky over the eastern horizon around 3 a.m. at the beginning of the month, but will rise earlier on each successive night. By the end of the month, look for Saturn, shining at magnitude 0.6, rising above the eastern horizon shortly before 1 a.m..


On Jan. 1, sunrise is at 7:32 a.m. and sunset at 4:57 p.m., for 9 hours and 25 minutes of daylight. By Jan. 31, sunrise will happen at 7:20 a.m., with the sun setting later in the evening at 5:29 p.m. for 10 hours and 9 minutes of daylight, a 44-minute increase from the beginning of the month.

Third quarter moon is Jan. 4, new moon on Jan. 11, first quarter on Jan. 18, and the moon will be full on Jan. 26.


The Quadrantids, another impressive meteor shower, follows up the Geminids this month. The Quadrantids will peak on the night of Jan. 3 and appear to originate from the constellation Bootes the Herdsman. In a dark sky, you can see an average of 120 meteors per hour. Although there will be a waning gibbous moon that night, the Quadrantids are typically bright, so it should still be a very good show.


The William Brish Planetarium will run programs open to the public on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. January shows will be held Wednesday, Jan. 2, and Tuesday, Jan. 15. For more information, visit

The next meeting for the TriState Astronomers will be held at the William Brish Planetarium on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Jason Kalirai of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore will speak on the James Webb Space Telescope. All are welcome! For more information, visit

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