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Astronomy Guide to the Night Sky – January 2020

Astronomy

Astronomy Guide with the Newbury Astronomical Society

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Welcome to the Newbury Astronomical Society’s Beginner’s monthly astronomy guide to the night sky.

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 20:00 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 (in red) 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 brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Aquarius (the Water Carrier) just moving over the western horizon, Pisces (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion) and Virgo (the Virgin) rising over the eastern horizon.

Just disappearing over the south western horizon is the constellation of Aquarius (the Water Carrier) followed by Pisces (the Fishes). The planet Uranus is in Pisces and can be found in the early evening using binoculars. It looks like a slightly fuzzy blue star. A telescope will reveal it as a small blue disc. It does need a magnification of 100x or more.

The summer constellations have now given way to the winter constellations that are now prominent in the southern sky. In the south west is the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse). The main feature of Pegasus is the square formed by the four brightest stars. This asterism (shape) is known as the Great Square of Pegasus. The square is larger than might be expected but once found is easier to find again. The Great Square can be used to judge the condition of the sky for observing. If stars can be seen within the square there seeing should be good. If no stars can be seen then seeing will not be good.

From the top left star of the Square, called Alpheratz, we can find the Great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. First find Alpheratz then move two stars to the left to the star Mirach and then up two slightly fainter stars. Just to the right of the second star is a small fuzzy patch of light can be seen, this is M31 the Great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. This is a giant spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy and the nearest of this type of galaxy. In a clear dark sky it is the most distant object that can be seen with our ‘naked eyes’ at 2.4 million light years. It is easier to find using binoculars but a telescope is required to see it as a ‘cigar shaped’ patch of light with a bright core at its centre.

Now prominent in the south is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). The most obvious star in Taurus is the lovely Red Giant Star called Aldebaran. It appears slightly orange to the ‘naked eye’ but it is very obviously orange when seen using binoculars or a telescope. Aldebaran is located at the centre of the ‘flattened’ X shape formed by the brightest stars in Taurus. At the end of the top right (upper west) arm of the ‘X’ is the beautiful ‘naked eye’ Open Star Cluster Messier 45 (M45) known as the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters). It really does look magnificent using binoculars.

Following Taurus is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux and they are named after mythological twins.

To the south of Taurus and Gemini is the spectacular constellation of Orion (the Hunter). Orion dominates the southern sky and is one of the best known constellations and hosts some of the most interesting objects for us amateur astronomers to seek out.

Planets visible this month: Uranus, Neptune and Venus in the evening.

Follow this link to see to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky: http://naasbeginners.co.uk/Whats_up/2019_2020/January 2020.htm

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 Wednesday 15th January 2020, for details click on the link below.

For details visit the NAS website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk

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