Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2020
This stellar relic, first spied by William Herschel in 1787, is nicknamed the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392, C39) because, when viewed through ground-based telescopes, it resembles a face surrounded by a fur parka. In this Hubble telescope image, the parka is really a disk of material embellished with a ring of comet-shaped objects, with their tails streaming away from the central, dying star. Although the Eskimo's “face” resembles a ball of twine, it is, in reality, a bubble of material being blown into space by the central star's intense explosive wind of high-speed material. This object is an example of a planetary nebula, so named because many of them have a round appearance resembling that of a planet when viewed through a small telescope. A planetary nebula forms when dying Sun-like stars eject their outer gaseous layers, which then become bright nebulae with amazing and confounding shapes. The Eskimo Nebula is about 5000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Gemini and began forming about 10,000 years ago. [Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI] [Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Andrew Fruchter (STScI), and the ERO team (STScI and ST-ECF)]
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2020
Happy New Year and welcome to the night sky report for January 2020 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The winter sky is filled with brilliant stars. In January, the northern hemisphere features beautiful views of Capella - a pair of giant yellow stars, Aldebaran - a red giant star, two star clusters - the Hyades (Caldwell 41) and the Pleiades (M45), and the Crab Nebula (M1).
Orion the hunter is the centerpiece, striding into the night sky with a belt of three stars. Above Orion lies a five-sided figure that forms Auriga, the charioteer, who was associated with goats. Its brightest star is Capella, which is actually a pair of giant yellow stars.
Auriga balances on a horn of Taurus the bull. In Greek mythology, Taurus was seen as the god Zeus in disguise. His eye is orange Aldebaran, a red giant star nearing the end of its life. A number of the stars that form the bull’s V-shaped head are part of a star cluster called the Hyades.
The bull’s shoulder is marked by the distinctive Pleiades star cluster, also called the Seven Sisters. The cluster contains more than 250 stars, but only six or seven are visible to the naked eye. The view of the Pleiades from the Palomar Observatory shows the brightest stars surrounded by a dusty cloud. The dust reflects the blue light of these hot stars.
At the tip of Taurus’s horn lies the Crab Nebula. The Crab is the remains of a star that exploded as a supernova, observed by Chinese, Japanese, and Arab astronomers in 1054. Telescopes on the ground and in space have observed different forms of light given off by the Crab Nebula. Different wavelengths of visible and invisible light reveal details of the supernova remnant. Combining information from different wavelengths helps us better understand the expanding cloud of glowing gas and the spinning neutron star that remains at its core.
Antares is a red giant star located in the constellation Scorpius which has a distinctly reddish color. Since it's the brightest star in Scorpius, it's also known as Alpha Scorpii. Located about 500 light years away, Antares is enormous. It's much bigger than the orbit of Mars and it's about 10,000 times brighter than our Sun.
Antares is also a well-studied star, and thus its well-known brightness is sometimes used by researchers in studying other phenomena in space, such as the rings of Saturn. NASA's Cassini spacecraft watched Antares flicker behind Saturn's rings on on multiple occasions, which helped researchers understand the structure of the icy rings.
The name Antares translates as "rival to Mars" in ancient Greek, as the star rivals the Red Planet's appearance to the unaided eye, both in color and brightness. Mars rises before dawn during January along with Antares, its "rival."
You can view the pair low in the southeast, about an hour before sunrise each morning. Near the beginning of January, Mars appears above Antares. As the days progress, the planet moves lower and to the east of Antares. They're joined by a slim lunar crescent on January 20th for what should be a very pretty grouping.
The early morning of Jan. 4th brings the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. This annual shower can be one of the better ones of the year, although it has a much shorter peak than most other meteor showers - just a few hours versus a day or two.
The visibility of meteor showers from year to year has a lot to do with whether there's a bright Moon in the sky at the time or not. This year, the Moon will set soon after midnight local time, meaning viewing conditions should be good, provided your local skies are not obscured by winter weather.
Face toward the northeast between midnight and dawn to see as many as two dozen meteors per hour under dark skies. (And the farther away you get from city lights, the darker it'll be). So bundle up, and be sure to give your eyes a little time to adapt to the dark, including a break from your mobile device, in order to see the maximum number of meteors.
Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid. Their parent body, asteroid 2003 EH1, orbits the Sun every five and a half years. Astronomers think it's possible that 2003 EH might be a "dead comet" or a new kind of object being discussed by scientists called a "rock comet."
In the early morning of January 5th, the Earth will be at perihelion, the closest we get to the Sun in our orbit. Between perihelion and 6 months later at aphelion there is about a 6.7 percent difference in the intensity of the sunlight reaching the Earth, one of the reasons the seasons in the Southern hemisphere are more extreme than in the Northern Hemisphere. Perihelion is also when the Earth is moving the fastest in its orbit around the Sun, so if you run east at local midnight, you will be moving about as fast as you can (in Sun-centered coordinates) for your location.
On January 10th, the planet Mercury will be passing on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called superior conjunction. Because Mercury orbits inside of the orbit of Earth, it will be shifting from the morning sky to the evening sky and will begin emerging from the glow of dusk on the western horizon in late January.
Closing out the month, the crescent Moon and Venus once again make for a gorgeous sight at the end of January, on the same day of the month as they did back in December. On January 28th, you'll find the pair hovering in the southwest in the hour or so after sunset that evening, so be sure to go out and take a look.
The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."
IC 405 Diffuse Nebula C31 Flaming Star Nebula
IC 2149 Planetary Nebula P126
NGC 1664 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H59-8
NGC 1778 Open Cluster P68
NGC 1857 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H33-7
NGC 1883 Open Cluster P211
NGC 1893 Open Cluster P69
NGC 1907 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H39-7
NGC 1912 Open Cluster M38
NGC 1931 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H261-1
NGC 1960 Open Cluster M36
NGC 2099 Open Cluster M37
NGC 2126 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H68-8
NGC 2192 Open Cluster P212
NGC 2281 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H71-8
Constellation: Canis Major
IC 468 Diffuse Nebula P132
IC 2165 Planetary Nebula P133
NGC 2204 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H13-7
NGC 2207 Galaxy P216
- IC 2163 Galaxy - Interacting with P216
NGC 2217 Galaxy P72
NGC 2243 Open Cluster P134
NGC 2287 Open Cluster M41
NGC 2345 Open Cluster P73
NGC 2354 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H16-7
NGC 2359 Diffuse Nebula P20 Thor’s Helmet
NGC 2360 Open Cluster C58, Herschel 400 H12-7
NGC 2362 Open Cluster C64, Herschel 400 H17-7 Tau Canis Major Cluster
NGC 2367 Open Cluster P74
NGC 2374 Open Cluster P75
NGC 2383 Open Cluster P135
NGC 2384 Open Cluster P76
Constellation: Canis Minor
IC 2157 Open Cluster P156
NGC 2129 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H26-8
NGC 2158 Globular Cluster Herschel 400 H17-6
NGC 2168 Open Cluster M35
NGC 2266 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H21-6
NGC 2304 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H2-6
NGC 2331 Open Cluster P157
NGC 2355 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H6-6
NGC 2371 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H316-2 (South) Paired with H317-2
NGC 2372 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H317-2 (North) Paired with H316-2
NGC 2392 Planetary Nebula C39, Herschel 400 H45-4 Eskimo Nebula
NGC 2395 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H11-8
NGC 2420 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H1-6
IC 418 Planetary Nebula P90 Spirograph Nebula
NGC 1904 Globular Cluster M79
NGC 1964 Galaxy Herschel 400 H21-4
NGC 2185 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H20-4
NGC 2215 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H20-7
NGC 2232 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H25-8
NGC 2236 Open Cluster P163
NGC 2237 Diffuse Nebula C49 - Rosette Nebula
- NGC 2238 Diffuse Nebula - Part of C49
- NGC 2246 Diffuse Nebula - Part of C49
NGC 2244 Open Cluster C50, Herschel 400 H2-7
NGC 2250 Open Cluster P164
NGC 2251 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H3-8
NGC 2252 Open Cluster P91
NGC 2254 Open Cluster P165
NGC 2262 Open Cluster P231
NGC 2259 Open Cluster P232
NGC 2261 Diffuse Nebula C46 Hubble’s Variable Nebula
NGC 2264 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H27-5, H5-8 Christmas Tree Cluster
NGC 2269 Open Cluster P166
NGC 2286 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H31-8
NGC 2299 Open Cluster P167
NGC 2301 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H27-6
NGC 2309 Open Cluster P233
NGC 2311 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H60-8
NGC 2323 Open Cluster M50
NGC 2324 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H38-7
NGC 2335 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H32-8
NGC 2343 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H33-8
NGC 2353 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H34-8
NGC 2368 Open Cluster P235
NGC 2506 Open Cluster C54, Herschel 400 H37-6
IC 434 Diffuse Nebula P92 Horsehead Nebula
NGC 1662 Open Cluster P39
NGC 1788 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H32-5
NGC 1976 Open Cluster M42 Great Orion Nebular Cluster
NGC 1977 Open Cluster P40 Running Man Nebular Cluster
- NGC 1973 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P40
- NGC 1975 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P40
NGC 1980 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H31-5
NGC 1981 Open Cluster P41
NGC 1982 Diffuse Nebula M43 DeMairan Nebula
NGC 1999 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H33-4
NGC 2022 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H34-4
NGC 2023 Diffuse Nebula P93
NGC 2024 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H28-5 Flame Nebula
NGC 2039 Open Cluster P94
NGC 2068 Diffuse Nebula M78
NGC 2071 Diffuse Nebula P42
NGC 2112 Open Cluster P170
NGC 2141 Open Cluster P171
NGC 2143 Open Cluster P172
NGC 2169 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H24-8
NGC 2175 Open Cluster P43
- NGC 2174 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P43
- IC 2159 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P43
NGC 2186 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H25-7
NGC 2194 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H5-6
Messier 45 Open Cluster M45 Pleiades
Caldwell 41 Open Cluster C41 Hyades
IC 1995 Diffuse Nebula P64
NGC 1514 Planetary Nebula P120
NGC 1554 Diffuse Nebula P200 Von Struve’s Lost Nebula
NGC 1555 Diffuse Nebula P201 Hind’s Variable Nebula
NGC 1647 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H8-8
NGC 1750 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H43-8
NGC 1807 Open Cluster P65
NGC 1817 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H4-7
NGC 1952 Diffuse Nebula M1 Crab Nebula
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