Orion
©Stellarium

by Gerald Rezes

Winter arrives at 2:23 pm (PST) on December 21, 2018 – the longest night of the year. Winter is a great time for star gazing as long as the weather holds out and in Southern California this is usually the case.

There are too many stars, constellations and astronomical objects in the winter sky to detail here. But the winter’s featured constellation has to be Orion. The stars that make up Orion’s figure are identified in many cultures as a hunter. Astronomically speaking, Orion is looks like a large hourglass pattern with three star making up his waistline belt. His right shoulder is marked by Betelgeuse, a large red giant star. In the opposite corner, Orion’s left knee, shines Rigel a hot blue supergiant. There are three stars that make-up Orion’s sword but actually, the middle “star” is the Great Orion Nebula (M42). This brilliant nebula is a hot bed of new star creation and is one of the easiest objects for the amateur astronomer to find and view in any telescope or binoculars.

Moon Phases

  • Dec. 22 – Full Moon
  • Dec. 29 – Last Quarter
  • Jan. 5 – New Moon
  • Jan. 13 – First Quarter
  • Jan. 20 – Full Moon (Eclipse)
  • Jan. 27 – Last Quarter
  • Feb. 4 – New Moon
  • Feb. 12 – First Quarter
  • Feb. 19 – Full Moon
  • Feb. 26 – Last Quarter
    Mar. 6 – New Moon
  • Mar. 14 – First Quarter
  • (Source: Griffith Observatory)

The before mentioned Betelgeuse along with Sirius and Procyon make up the asterism called the Winter Triangle. Sirius, the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the night sky; Procyon is a binary system with a white dwarf star. Rounding out the notable stars in the winter sky are Aldebara, Capella, Castor and Pollux.

Opposite the galactic center, the winter presents the Milky Way’s outer arm spanning across the sky. With this river of stars, their are many Messier objects. The before mentioned Orion Nebula, M42, is probably the most famous winter object.

Next perhaps is M1, The Crab Nebula, which is a circular supernova remnant from an explosion in 1054 AD. M45, The Pleiades, is sometimes mistaken for the Little Dipper but this open cluster of new stars is nowhere near the northern pole. There are several additional open clusters in the winter sky including: M41, M35, M36, M37, M38 and M67. Last, there are the Hyades, the nearest open cluster which makes up the “V” in Taurus.

Planets:

Moon: There is a lunar eclipse on January 20.  Mercury begins winter in the morning sky then transitions to the evening sky with greatest eastern elongation on February 26. Venus in in the morning sky all winter with greatest western elongation on January 5. Mars is in the evening sky setting about 4 hours after the sun. It is decreasing in brightness as it gets further from opposition. Jupiter is in the morning sky close to the sun in Scorpius. Saturn is also in the morning sky near the sun in Sagittarius. Uranus and Neptune are leaving the evening sky by winter’s end.