Find your way around the night sky! Below is a free sky map for January 2016 as well as a printable version, courtesy of astronomer Jeff DeTray.
Sky Map for January 2016
Each month, Jeff DeTray’s Sky Maps provides a sky map which highlights beautiful events in the evening sky—stars, constellations, planets, conjunctions with the Moon, meteor showers, and other amazing celestial objects. Follow more of Jeff’s sky adventures at AstronomyBoy.com.
Click-and-Print Sky Map
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
Sky Map Highlights: January 2016
The Glittering Gems of Winter
If you can deal with the cold weather, mid-winter offers up a spectacular sky full of bright stars. So dress warmly and enjoy the view!
Near the top of this month’s Sky Map is the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. This tight group of bright stars appears in the historical records of many ancient cultures dating back more than 3,000 years. The Pleiades are mentioned three times in the Bible, and were known to peoples as diverse as the Arabs, Japanese, Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand), and Native Americans.
The Pleiades are a good test of your vision. If your eyesight is very sharp, you may be able to discern six or seven of the brightest members of the cluster. Otherwise, you’ll see a hazy blob that you can’t quite resolve into individual stars. However, the sight in even the smallest binoculars is spectacular, with dozens of stars springing into view.
Below and slightly to the left of the Pleiades is another star cluster, the Hyades. In Greek mythology the five brightest Hyades are half-sisters of the Pleiades and the daughters of Atlas, who was condemned to forever support the heavens on his broad shoulders. The Hyades form a roughly V-shaped arrangement pointing to the right and down. The bright star Aldebaran appears to be part of the cluster but is in fact much closer to us than the stars of the Hyades; Aldebaran is a foreground star that just happens to be in our line of sight. When you look that direction, you are looking past Aldebaran to the much more distant Hyades.
The Orion Constellation
Down and to the left of Aldebaran and the Hyades stands mighty Orion, the brightest constellation in the whole sky. In mid-December The Hunter is higher in the sky than at any other time of the year. There is no better time to enjoy Orion!
Orion is loaded with blazing stars. Chief among them are Rigel and Betelgeuse, the 7th and 10th brightest stars the sky. Compare these two stars carefully, and you may notice a color difference between them. Rigel is an intense white, almost bluish. Betelgeuse is nearly as bright but more yellow-orange in color. At Orion’s waist is a close trio of stars comprising his Belt, with the middle one, Alnilam, noticeably brighter than the other two.
At Orion’s upper right corner sits Bellatrix, the sky’s 27th brightest star, and one of many astronomical objects whose names were borrowed by author J. K. Rowling for characters in her Harry Potter books. Below Orion, in the constellation Canis Major, lies Sirius, the brightest star of all and the namesake of a major Harry Potter character. Canis Major is the Greater Dog, and Sirius is also known as the Dog Star.
From Sirius, our tour of bright stars concludes with Procyon in the otherwise undistinguished constellation Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog. Procyon’s name comes from the ancient Greek for “before the dog.” And, indeed, Procyon precedes Sirius (the Dog Star) across the sky.
Although January marks the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s worth noting that Earth is closer to the Sun this month than at any other time of year. You might think that being closer to the Sun would make January one of our warmer months. However, our distance from the Sun is only one factor. Far more important is the tilt of the Earth on its axis. Throughout the winter, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun, resulting in fewer hours of sunlight and colder temperatures. The tilt more than compensates for our being a measly couple of million miles closer to the Sun.
JANUARY 2016 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge (PDF)
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
See our Sky Watch page for more highlights of the monthly sky, courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.