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Sky Guides: Stargazing, weather and more!

For the month of January

Winter Sky Map © Wil Tirion

January Highlights
Comet Machholz is this month's celestial highlight, moving through Taurus and past the Pleiades on its way toward Perseus and Camelopardalis. For the best views, look for it with binoculars before the moon gets too bright midmonth, or at the end of the month and into February when the moon wanes again. Venus and Mercury are visible just before sunrise early this month, though both are beginning to disappear in the sun's rays. Jupiter rises around midnight and glows brightly at dawn, while Saturn is visible in the evening within the confines of the constellation Gemini, just below the twin stars Castor and Pollux.

January Constellations
At nine pm on January evenings the last of the late-summer and fall constellations are just about to set. Deneb, the bright alpha star in the constellation Cygnus, is just above the northwestern horizon. The Great Square of Pegasus is almost due west, and the constellations Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Andromeda, somewhat higher, are still visible. Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Bear or the Little Dipper, hangs almost straight down from Polaris, the North Star.

Leo, the Lion, and its bright alpha star Regulus are just rising in the east-northeast. Between Leo and Gemini lies the faint zodiacal constellation Cancer, the Crab. To the north is Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The Big Dipper, a part of that large constellation, stands upright on its handle.

The southeastern quadrant of the sky holds Orion, the Hunter, one of the brightest and most easily recognized constellations. Orion also serves as a pointer to several other constellations. The three equally bright, evenly spaced stars of Orion's belt point roughly toward Aldebaran, the alpha star in Taurus, to Orion's west, and toward Sirius, the alpha star in Canis Major, so the southeast. Sirius, also called the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the sky. Above Orion's belt are the stars of his shoulders: the brighter, eastern star of the two is the red star Betelgeuse; the other is called Bellatrix. Below the belt are two stars marking his knees: the brighter, western one is the bluish-white star Rigel; the other is Saiph.

A line drawn from Rigel through Orion's belt to Betelgeuse and then extended northward points just north of Gemini, the Twins, and that constellation's two brightest stars, Castor and Pollux. Between Gemini and Canis Major lies the bright star Procyon, the alpha star in Canis Minor, the Little Dog.

There are few bright stars in the southwestern portion of the sky. The dim but large constellations of Pisces (the Fish), Cetus (the Sea Monster), and Eridanus (the River) span most of the western and southwestern sky. Near the meridian high in the south is Taurus, the Bull. The bright orange star Aldebaran marks his eye and the V-shaped star cluster the Hyades marks his face. High in the southwest is the lovely star cluster known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. Almost overhead is Capella, the bright star in Auriga, the Charioteer.