In the Winter Sky

By Alan French

Win­ter can be a chal­leng­ing time to enjoy the night sky, but bun­dle up and let the cold, clear win­ter nights entice you out­side. The most obvi­ous dif­fer­ence between the skies of win­ter and sum­mer is the win­ter pre­dom­i­nance of bright stars, many in very dis­tinc­tive, eye-catch­ing patterns.

The show­piece of win­ter is the con­stel­la­tion Ori­on, the Hunter. Look toward the south at 10 pm in ear­ly Jan­u­ary, and you’ll eas­i­ly spot Orion’s three even­ly spaced and equal­ly bright belt stars angled upward toward the right. Two bright stars above the belt mark his shoul­ders. The left one – his right shoul­der – is Betel­geuse and is dis­tinct­ly red­dish. Below the belt two stars mark his knees, Rigel being the bright­est. Between the belt and the knees, you will see a line of three stars on the left, hang­ing down­ward. This is the hunter’s sword. Note that the mid­dle star looks fuzzy. This is actu­al­ly the Great Ori­on Neb­u­la, a cloud of gas and dust where stars are being born. By ear­ly Feb­ru­ary Ori­on will be in the south around 8 pm.

You can use Orion’s belt to find two oth­er con­stel­la­tions. Imag­ine a line going through the stars and con­tin­u­ing to the right. The first bright star you come to is a very red­dish Alde­baran. It marks the eye of Tau­rus, the Bull, and is at the end of a V” of stars, its bot­tom to the right, that out­lines his face. Head­ing across the sky in the oth­er direc­tion, you’ll come to Sir­ius, the lumi­nary of Can­is Major, the Big Dog.” Sir­ius is the bright­est star in our night sky.

Ear­ly Jan­u­ary’s dawn skies will offer a nice treat, when Venus will be close to Sat­urn and pass with­in ½‑degree (the appar­ent diam­e­ter of the Moon) of the ringed plan­et. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Tues­day, Jan­u­ary 5, at 6:30 AM. Look for the pair in the south­east. Bril­liant Venus will be high­est, with Sat­urn just over four degrees to its low­er left. You should also spot the red­dish star Antares below and a bit to the right. To the upper right you’ll find a cres­cent Moon, and far­ther right and high­er in the sky red Mars, with the star Spi­ca close by in the south. Bright Jupiter will be even high­er and in the southwest.
  • Wednes­day, Jan­u­ary 6, at 6:30 AM. The love­ly cres­cent Moon will be clos­er to Venus, and Sat­urn will be less than four degrees from Venus.
  • Thurs­day, Jan­u­ary 7, at 6:30 AM. The slen­der Moon will be left of Sat­urn. The dis­tance between Sat­urn and Venus will con­tin­ue to shrink, reach­ing less than one degree.
  • Fri­day, Jan­u­ary 8. Mak­ing their clos­est approach, Sat­urn and Venus will sep­a­rat­ed by less than ½‑degree. Then on each of the fol­low­ing morn­ings, Venus will be high­er and far­ther away.

As the weath­er warms, con­sid­er join­ing the Albany Area Ama­teur Astronomers for a Star Par­ty at the Lan­dis Arbore­tum. These events are free and open to the pub­lic. (Dona­tions to the Arbore­tum are always grate­ful­ly accept­ed.) After a brief ori­en­ta­tion to the night sky, par­tic­i­pants are invit­ed to view celes­tial phe­nom­e­na through sev­er­al tele­scopes. Our sched­ule will be pub­lished in the Arboretum’s 2016 Cal­en­dar of Events and is also avail­able both on the Lan­dis web­site and our own web­site (http://​dud​ley​ob​ser​va​to​ry​.org/AAAA). Reg­is­tra­tion is sug­gest­ed because Star Par­ties are can­celed if the skies are most­ly cloudy. For more details or to reg­is­ter, call me at (518) 3748460.

Winter 2016

Volume 34 , Number 1

Share this

The Latest from Landis

Aug 06, 2022

Landis Forest 5K - August 6, 2022

A record turnout! Click here to view all the great photos from this event, and... read more

Jun 10, 2022 | Anne Donnelly

Don't Overlook Your Reciprocal Admissions Privilege

A sometimes overlooked benefit of your Landis Arboretum membership is the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal... read more

May 29, 2022

Scenes From the Spring Plant Sale

Thanks to our many wonderful volunteers, plant consignors, vendors, and customers, the Landis Signature Spring... read more

May 28, 2022 | Fred Breglia, Executive Director

From the Director’s Desk: Q&A, Part III

In this last Q&A session, I am focusing on leaf color change during the... read more

May 28, 2022 | Erin McKenna Breglia, Landis Gardener

From the Garden: Milkweeds for Monarchs!

Many people enjoy seeing butterflies in our Landis gardens. especially the monarch butterfly, Danaus... read more

May 28, 2022 | Anita Sanchez

Life and Death on the Lawn

It’s a beautiful summer day. You’ve finished your stack of books from the Landis... read more

News Archive