Look up with the January 2018 sky map to navigate the stars and constellations in the night sky. On this page is both a color sky map and a black and white printable map to bring outside!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
This Month: The Great Orion Star Factory
Ever wonder where stars come from?
Stars form within great clouds of interstellar gas and dust comprised mainly of hydrogen. Think of these clouds as Star Factories. Ever so slowly, over tens of millions of years, portions of a cloud begin to collapse due to its own gravity, forming tenuous clumps of material. Every particle in the clump exerts a tiny gravitational pull on every other particle. As gravity pulls the clump together, collisions between the particles heat them up. When the hot core of a clump becomes sufficiently heated, the hydrogen atoms begin to fuse, releasing colossal amounts of energy … and a star is born!
Amazingly, the nearest of nature’s fabulous Star Factories is visible (albeit barely) with your unaided eyes. It lies in the constellation Orion, the Hunter, which is ideally placed for observing on January nights.
Refer to this month’s Sky Map to find Orion standing tall and proud in the southern sky. Across the middle of Orion lie three bright stars at an angle: Orion’s Belt. Directly beneath the middle star of the Belt is a vertical line of three dimmer stars, popularly known as Orion’s Sword. From a dark location away from city lights, you will see the middle star of the Sword is actually a small glowing cloud. This is the Great Orion Nebula, the closest major Star Factory. The close-up on the Sky Map shows where to look.
In Photo 1 below is a time-exposure I made of this region with a SLR camera. Photo 2 is a highly magnified time exposure made by astrophotographer Thomas Shahan through his telescope. Please note that you will not see any of the colors when observing the Great Orion Nebula with your eyes alone, nor will you if you use a telescope. A long exposure with a camera is required to capture the exquisite colors of the Nebula.
The Great Orion Star Factory is relatively close to us—a mere 1,400 light-years away. It’s practically next door! Several hundred new stars (aka protostars) are in various stages of formation within the Nebula. The youngest of these are thought to be only a few hundred thousand years old—just babies!
January 2018 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge this map (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
While observing the Great Orion Nebula, be sure to look for other wonderful objects in this part of the sky.
To the upper right of Orion are a pair of clusters that are easy to see unaided. Near the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, is a loose cluster of stars called the Hyades. In mythology, the Hyades were the daughters of Atlas, the being whose task it is to hold up the sky for all eternity. Nearby are the Pleiades, the seven half-sisters of the Hyades. The Pleiades are a tight cluster of stars that are an interesting test of your visual acuity. If you can see all seven Pleiades, you have the eyes of a warrior. Many people see only five of the seven stars.
While Orion is the brightest of all constellations, with at least seven noteworthy stars, the brightest star of all is located to the lower left of Orion. It’s Sirius, the Dog Star, in the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog.
Take a moment to enjoy the best sky highlights of the winter: the Dog Star, the Hyades and Pleiades, and the Great Orion Star Factory.
Enjoy astronomy? Check out Bob Berman’s column, “This Week’s Amazing Sky.”