EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY - JANUARY 2021
Welcome to our New Year edition of Eyes on the Night Sky. We’ll be making the most of the early dark evenings from the comfort of our gardens as there is plenty going on in the heavens! There is an opportunity to see Mercury, watch a meteor shower and discover some interesting asterisms that look like numbers and letters. Whether you have a new telescope, binoculars or want to use just your eyes, we have something for everyone.
Quadrantids Meteor Shower
This New Year meteor shower occurs between 1st and 6th January. The Quadrantid peak occurs during daylight on 3rd January at around 2pm at a rate of around 120 meteors per hour but wait until darkness as the period between 4pm and moonrise at 9.15pm is a good window of opportunity to see any ‘shooting stars’. They may be few and far between, perhaps around 30 meteors an hour. The parent body (or source) of these meteors has been identified as asteroid 2003 EH1. If you are in your garden, face northwards, as the radiant is situated low on the northern horizon. The best way to view any meteor shower is to look at the surrounding areas away from the radiant.
The New Moon falls on 13th January and the Full Moon on 28th January. This year’s Full Moon is also known as the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule. Early Native Americans named it the Wolf Moon as they would hear the hungry wolves in the depths of winter howl at this time of year.
On the evening of 24th January just after sunset, look out for planet Mercury as it reaches greatest eastern elongation. It will appear yellowish in colour as it emerges low on the western sky at dusk.
Did you know that some asterisms resemble letters and numbers? We have selected some of the best you can spot from your garden, with the unaided eye, binoculars or a small telescope:
The Moon – Lunar V and X
There’s a great opportunity to spot the letters V and X in the features of the Moon, if you have a small telescope. This occurs at certain times where the light of the Sun falls favourable on certain lunar features and at the terminator, which is the area of shadow between the light and dark parts of the Moon. The diagram shows the positions of the letters and the best time to spot them is between 6.10pm and 6.30pm on 20th January.
The 37 Cluster is one of our favourites. Situated in Orion’s held-aloft club, you will need a small telescope to find it. It truly looks like a funky number 37! Depending on the type of telescope you use, it might also look like the letters ‘LE’ or ‘XY’. It’s more serious designation is open cluster NGC 2169. Discovered by astronomer Giovanni Batista Hodierna in 1654, it lies around 3,600 light years away from Earth. Try to discover this for yourself or click here to see it.
Here’s an asterism that looks like the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet. Locate the star Meissa in the constellation of Orion and with your eyes fixed to the star, lift your binoculars to it and look for a configuration of stars that resemble the letter Lambda.
It’s amazing to think the star Meissa is also designated Lambda Ori, the 11th brightest star in the constellation of Orion.
Cassiopeia is a W?
This is one of the 88 established constellations in the night sky with many myths associated with it, from a wicked queen to a Welsh legend Llys Dôn, which was believed to be the home of the sky goddess, Dôn. Face south-west in the early evening and look up until you see a ‘W’ shape in the sky. At certain times of the year, the constellation inverts to an ‘M’ as it spins close to the polar axis; this constellation is circumpolar and never sets.
You’ll have to wait until around 8pm to see this massive asterism that resembles the letter ‘G’. It comprises nine of the brightest stars in the sky across six constellations. Face southwards and use your eyes to find the red giant Betelguese; look slightly to the right to find the next brightest star, Bellatrix. Look towards the horizon for the hot, blue star Rigel, then eastwards towards the scintillating star Sirius. Look upwards towards Procyon and try to find the twin stars, Pollox and Castor. Look diagonally westwards to Capella and finally down to Aldebaran in Taurus.