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  • Writer's pictureFlamsteed Astronomy Society

Sky this Month: January 2014


January is perhaps the best month to understand how all the constellations all fit together.  Find a dark site and just go out and look.  The Milky Way sweeps across the whole sky, overhead, from north-west to south-east and it’s a glorious sight. Almost all the major constellations seem to be embedded it, attached to it and hanging off it.  The first slide shows the sky at 8pm in London. Cygnus is now setting, and then comes Cepheus and Lacerta.  Overhead at this time of the evening are Cassiopeia and Perseus, with to the north the little known Camelopardalis – not surprising as none of its stars are very bright.  Then, as we move towards the ‘rising’ half of the sky, Auriga and Taurus, then Gemini and Orion. Towards the horizon, we see Monoceros and then Sirius in Canis Major.

Almost overhead, at this time of year, the Milky Way axis is crossed by the Ecliptic, with Leo and Cancer rising in the east, Gemini and Taurus at the intersection, and Aries, Pisces and Aquila setting in the west. 

In the evening, Jupiter, riding high in Gemini all night; and Uranus, lowdown to the south-west. Jupiter was at its midnight culmination – opposition – on 5 January.  At 60 degrees above the horizon in London, it’s as high as it will ever get and is visible all night. The second image of Jupiter in the presentation was taken by Rupert Smith at around 1am on Saturday 11 January as the red spot began to come into view. Image details are: Telescope APM 152/1200ED Doublet with 4x Barlow for 4800mm focal length. Camera was a Point Grey Blackfly Colour camera with an e2V 5.2µ EV76 sensor (e2V are a UK sensor company and supply sensors for the Hubble and new Gaia Space Telescopes).

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In the early morning (06:50): Venus, having been a great evening object throughout December, zipped just north of the sun on 9 January and is now an early morning object. Mercury at the same time moves east of the sun – an evening object –  until 31 January but by 16 February it, too, zips north of the sun and starts to catch up Venus as a morning object.

Mars and Saturn are also morning objects at this time, Mars rising about 2pm next week and Saturn later. By 1st February, Mars rises around 23:30. Ceres and Vesta will be just north east of Mars by then and will dance together, getting closer and closer until by 2-4 July they are a mere 10 arc-minutes apart. They are in opposition in mid April when, Ceres at least, at mag 5.8 could be a north-east object at a dark site except the moon will be close.

There is such a wealth of objects, planets and deep sky, at present , I thought that, rather than try to cover them all, I would like to concentrate on just one constellation. Not Orion, which is so well known, nor Gemini for the same reason, but Auriga, riding high at the moment, at the intersection of the Milky Way with the Ecliptic.  One of the great constellations with a profusion of interesting objects.  I’d like to pick out a few items of interest for those with even with low-powered telescopes.