Our January 2021 Sky Map hones in on the best of the month’s night sky—with accompanying text—so it’s easy to navigate and not overwhelming. The color star chart (PDF) is free each month to use in finding constellations, planets, and more!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
The Brightest Sky of the Year
January’s combination of crisp, clear winter nights and a southeastern sky filled with celestial wonders makes it well worth bundling up and scanning the heavens! We’ll help you navigate the night sky with these highlights and the map below.
- Orion, the Hunter, is not the largest constellation, but it is unquestionably the brightest. It’s home to a pair of the sky’s Top 10 brightest stars, ruddy Betelgeuse and blue-white Rigel. Star colors are notoriously difficult to discern, but on a clear night, the differing hues of Betelgeuse and Rigel are plain to see at Orion’s right shoulder and left knee, respectively. Somewhat less luminous are Bellatrix at the Hunter’s left shoulder and Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak, which comprise Orion’s Belt. Saiph, at his right knee, would be a noteworthy star in any other celestial neighborhood, but it doesn’t even crack the Top 5 in mighty Orion.
- Above Orion stands Taurus, the Bull, his long horns jutting to the left and one baleful eye represented by the reddish star Aldebaran.
- Nearby lies a group of stars that make up the Hyades star cluster. The members of the Hyades lie fairly close together in space, but despite its apparent proximity, Aldebaran is not a part of the cluster. It is much closer to us than the Hyades (one reason that it appears brighter) and just happens to lie along the same line of sight. This is one of countless examples where celestial objects appear near one another from our point of view, but vast differences in distance mean that they are actually far apart.
- Above the Hyades are the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, which are among the most famous of star clusters. This cluster is so distinctive and its location so prominent that dozens of ancient cultures found a place in their mythologies for the Pleiades. Most people with good vision can spot five stars when they gaze at the Pleiades. However, if your eyesight is especially acute and the sky is wonderfully clear, you may see seven or even more. If you do, you have “the eyes of a warrior,” as ancient lore decreed.
- Off to the left is the five-sided figure of Auriga, the Charioteer. The star Elnath is shared between Auriga and Taurus, making it one of the few stars that belongs to two constellations.
- Swinging downward, we find Gemini, the Twins. Their names are Castor and Pollux, with stars of those names representing the heads of the reclining twins. They lie holding hands, their legs and feet stretched out toward Orion.
- Continuing counterclockwise around the sky, we reach Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog. Its only bright star is Procyon, a name meaning “before the dog.” This refers to the fact that on any given night, Procyon rises above the horizon a few minutes before the bright star Sirius, whose nickname is “the Dog Star.” Thus, Procyon rises “before the dog.”
- We’ll skip over the dim constellation Monoceros to reach Canis Major, the Greater Dog. This figure is home to the aforementioned Sirius, which just happens to be the brightest star in the night sky—almost twice as bright as any other! Sirius appears so bright to us because it is both extremely luminous and relatively nearby.
Enjoy the January sky—the brightest of the year!
Click here or on map below to enlarge (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
Note: How to Read the Sky Map
Our monthly sky map does not show the entire sky which would be almost impossible. Instead, the map focuses on a particular region of the sky each month where something interesting is happening. The legend on the map always tells you which direction you should facing, based on midnight viewing. For example, if the map legend says “Looking Southeast,” you should face southeast when using the map.
The map is accurate for any location at a so-called “mid northern” latitude. That includes anywhere in the 48 U.S. states, southern Canada, central and southern Europe, central Asia, and Japan. If you are located substantially north of these areas, objects on our map will appear lower in your sky, and some objects near the horizon will not be visible at all. If you are substantially south of these areas, everything on our map will appear higher in your sky.
The items labeled in green on the sky map are known as asterisms. These are distinctive star patterns that lie within constellations. When getting your bearings under the stars, it’s often easiest to spot an asterism and use it as a guide to finding the parent constellation.
The numbers along the white “Your Horizon” curve at the bottom of the map are compass points, shown on degrees. As you turn your head from side to side, you will be looking in the compass direction indicated by those numbers. The horizon line is curved in order to preserve the geometry of objects in the sky. If we made the horizon line straight, the geometry of objects in the sky would be distorted.