Astronomy Guide to the Night Sky – January 2018

With the Newbury Astronomical Society

Click on the image above to enlarge, ‘right click’ to copy or close window to return here

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 21:00 GMT on 15th January.  West is to the right and east to the left.  The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown at the upper centre of the chart.  The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac.  This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky.  The constellations through which the ecliptic passes are known as the constellations of the ‘Zodiac’.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are: Just off the chart to the west (right) Aquarius (the Water Carrier), Pisces (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab) and just coming on to the chart in the east is Leo (the Lion).

The Milky Way (our Galaxy) appears to rise up from the western horizon through the Summer Triangle and Cygnus.  It continues up through Cassiopeia then down towards the East through Perseus and Auriga.  It then flows through the constellations of Gemini, Orion and Monoceros at the bottom of the chart.

The outermost planet Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius and will be disappearing over the western horizon in the early evening.  A beginner’s telescope will show Neptune as a rather fuzzy looking star with a blue tinge but a larger telescope will show it as a small blue disc.  Uranus is located in the constellation of Pisces and is slightly easier to see than Neptune as it is only half as far away.  It appears twice the diameter of Neptune and four times as bright so it can be seen as a small disc using a beginner’s telescope with a magnification of 100x or more.

Sitting astride the ecliptic in the south is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull).  The Taurus asterism (shape) looks like a squashed cross ‘X’.  At the centre of the cross is a large, faint Open Cluster called the Hyades.  It has the bright Red Giant star Aldebaran at its centre.  The real beauty of Taurus is the naked eye Open Cluster M45 the Pleiades (Seven Sisters).

To the north of M45 (the Pleiades cluster in Taurus) is a line of stars defining the constellation of Perseus.  The whole asterism (shape) of Perseus looks like a horse rider’s stirrup.  At the top of the line of stars is the beautiful object ‘the Double Cluster’ best seen using binoculars.

Above and linked to the constellation of Taurus by the star Elnath is the constellation of Auriga (the Charioteer).  The shape of the ‘stick figure’ of Auriga is like a misshapen pentagon.  The brightest star in Auriga is the beautiful bright white star Capella.  It is the sixth brightest star in the night sky.  Capella has a magnitude of approximately 0 (actually +0.06) so can be used as the base star when working out the brightness of other stars.  Auriga has three Messier Open Clusters: M36, M37 and M38.  They appear to form a straight line through Auriga which also appears to continue on in line to M35 in Gemini.

To the south of Taurus is the magnificent constellation of Orion (the Hunter).  He has a distinct line of three stars depicting his belt with a line of fainter stars tracing out a sword appearing to hang from his belt.  Orion looks very impressive and has many things of interest to search out with binoculars or a telescope.

There will be a meteor shower at the beginning of this month, called the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.  The shower is active between 1st and 4th January with a noticeable increase in activity in the early morning hours of 3rd January.  There will be a full Moon in the south east but some of the brighter Quadrantids will still be visible.  For more details follow the link below.

There is a new comet, called 2017 T1 (Heinze), visible this month moving through the ‘Zenith’ (the point in the sky directly overhead).  It will be visible, using binoculars, looking like a fairly faint ‘fuzzy’ patch of light.  It will be moving slowly night to night from a point almost directly overhead on the 1st January towards the distinctive ‘W’ shape of Cassiopia on 10 January.  For more details follow the link below.

Follow this link to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky:

To see a full version of this article and a guide to the night sky with charts, read the Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) – Monthly Magazine for Beginners on the NAS website or come along to the next Beginners meeting on 17th January 2018, for details click on the link below.

For details visit the NAS website at:

Leave a comment