Any any clear night next few weeks check out the brightest star of the entire year, Sirius, shining like a lone beacon in the southern sky. The lead member in the constellation Canis Major or Big Dog, it’s so brilliant because it is one of the closest stars to Earth at just over 8 light years away.
Surrounding it is a crown of stellar diamonds that are the hallmark of winter skies. To its upper right is the granddaddy of all stellar figures, Orion the hunter – where you’ll find blue coloured Rigel, orange Betelgeuse and its belt of 3 stars in between. Meanwhile to the upper left of Sirius you can see the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, and just below it, Canis Minor’s Procyon.
Turning to planets, Mars glows faintly as an orange star in the southeastern sky late nights just below the rump of Leo and within the constellation Virgo . If you wait until dawn, the Red Planet will have glided over to the low southwest. As Mars begins to get closer to Earth in the next few months, it will slowly begin to brighten and rise earlier in the evening as we head into Spring in a couple of months. If you have a telescope handy then you may begin to see surface features on the planet as it increases in apparent size in the sky. By far the easiest to spot will be the bright white north polar cap of Mars, which is tilted towards Earth.
Also worth checking out with a telescope at dawn is the ringed planet Saturn. It now shines , high in the south to the upper left of Virgo’s brightest star Spica.
Can’t forget our closest celestial neighbour, the moon, since it will be involved in two must see events in the coming weeks. While Venus has been dominating the western sky at sunset these past couple of months it will be joined by a crescent moon on Jan.25th and 26th making for a great photo-op.
The king of all planets, super-bright Jupiter high in the south at dusk gets its turn to dance with the first quarter moon on the evening of the 30th.
Finally, keep an eye on both Venus and Jupiter over the course of the next few months. You will see that they are slowly approaching each other as they head for a striking close encounter in March.
Tags: Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Sirius, Venus
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Skywatchers heading out to walk their dogs these late evenings may have noticed a very bright star in the southern sky. This white beacon is Sirius, the lead star in the constellation Canis Major – the Great Dog. You can use the 3 belt stars of Orion the hunter, as a convenient guidepost that points directly to the Dog Star.
Sirius is the brightest star in our nighttime sky, and has a faint, tiny stellar companion called Sirius B or the celestial pup. The two stars revolve around each other every 50 years. Sirius A, only 8.6 light-years from Earth, is the fifth closest star system known.
White dwarfs are the leftover remnants of stars. They have exhausted their nuclear fuel sources and have collapsed down to a very small size. Sirius B is about 10,000 times fainter than Sirius A. You will need a mediaum sized telescope – at least or 10 inches to spot Sirius B next to the glare of its neighbouring behemoth. It’s amazing we can glimpse them at all, because a white dwarf is about the size of the Earth -12,000 km diameter, yet they still have about 90% of the mass of the Sun.
Somethings to think about next time your out walking your four legged friend out on the next clear night.
Tags: Canis Major, Sirius
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