What's Up: The Sky Tonight

 

Each month on this page, the Big Sky Astronomy club hosts a video, produce by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) featuring the planets, deep sky objects and one or more of the constellations that are visible in our night sky at this particular time of year.

 

Tonight's Sky, during the month of January, 2020:

  • As the chilly nights of Autumn transition into the colder Winter season, the crisp January skies provide wonderful sky gazing. Here's what to look for this January of 2020.

  • On a clear January night, facing south, the easily recognizable form of Orion, the hunter from Greek Mythology, dominates the sky with its three brilliant stars forming the belt around his waist;

  • Above Orion lies the pentagon shape of the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. Also from Greek Mythology, Auriga was associated with goats;

  • Auriga's brightest star is Capella. While it appears as a single star to the naked eye, it is actually a double binary - a four star system - made up of two giant yellow stars and two more smaller stars;

  • Below Auriga lies the figure of Taurus, the bull. Again, from Greek Mythology, Taurus was actually the king of the gods Zeus, but in a tricky disguise;

  • The bright orange star of Aldebaran marks the bulls eye. It is an aging red giant star that is nearing the end of its life;

  • The open star cluster known as the Hyades forms the bull's head. This cluster of stars is the closest open star cluster to Earth and lies only about 150 light years away;

  • Another famous star cluster - the Pleiades or "Seven Sisters" - lies at the bull's shoulder;

  • While only 6 or 7 of the stars of the Pleiades are visible to the naked eye, the cluster actually contains over 250 stars;

  • Astrophotos of the cluster reveal the stars are enveloped in a dusty cloud. The dust floating in space around the stars reflects the blue light from these hot, young stars;

  • Located at the tip of one of the bull's horns is the Crab Nebula or M1 in Charles Messier's catalog;

  • The Crab Nebula is the remains of a star that exploded as a supernova. This massive stellar explosion was witness by Chinese, Japanese and Arab astronomers in the the year 1054. They recorded their observations of this explosion, which was bright enough to see in the daytime for several weeks;

  • Professional telescopes, both on Earth and in space have imaged the Crab Nebula in different wavelenghts of light. Each wavelength of visible and invisible light reveals different details of the structure of the cloud of gas that is rapidly expanding from the explosion;

  • Combining these images provides astronomers a much better understanding of the processes still going on after nearly a thousand years since the star exploded;

  • Located at the center of the nebula is the tiny remnant of the original star, the "leftovers" of the supernova explosion. This highly compact and bizarre object is known as a neutron star. A teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh more than 10 million tons or as much as a medium-sized mountain;

  • Bundle up and go outside on these cold January nights and take in the wonders of early winter's night sky.



Watch "Tonight's Sky" for January, 2020 graciously provided by the fine folks at HubbleSite.org:



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