Sun rises at 6:37am
Sun sets at 6:14pm
Moon phase: last quarter, waning crescent
Moon rises at 1:07am
The evening sky is currently blessed with a smattering of planets. Jupiter rises around 11:30pm snuggling close to the slightly less bright star, Spica. Saturn rises about 2:30am. Between these two planets is the moon, a waning crescent in the last quarter of its cycle. In fact, the moon Saturn and the bright star Antares make a nice little triangle that graces the sky in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Don’t want to stay up so late? Seek out other planets.
Venus is at her brightest these nights and Mars is nearby, both hanging in the western edge of the sky. Almost impossible to spot is Uranus, just above Mars; use good binoculars or a telescope. The three planets seem to form an almost vertical, almost straight line, with Venus at the bottom. These celestial bodies sink below the horizon early, around 9:00pm.
About that time is prime Winter Circle viewing time! Directly overhead at 9:00pm, the Winter Circle is a group of well-known constellations’ brightest stars which roughly form a circle that dominates the sky in the winter months. Prominent among these constellations is Orion. Known as a hunter, Orion’s three stars in a row mark his belt which is why he is easy to spot and why then the Winter Circle is easy to find.
Once you see the three stars in a row, look to the northeast to Orion’s “shoulder,” for a reddish or ruddy-hued star. This is Betelgeuse and it sits at the middle of the circle. By the way, kids especially like the star Betelgeuse, because its name sounds so much like beetle juice, but astronomers pronounce it slightly differently: BET-el-zhews. People have described this star as sombre or sometimes even grandfatherly. Betelgeuse is old for a star, as a matter of fact, well into the autumn of its lifespan. Betelgeuse is no ordinary red star. It’s a magnificently rare red supergiant. Another is Antares in the constellation Scorpius, but I digress…
Back to the Winter Circle: At Orion’s foot is the bluish-white star Rigel; from there you can see a circle of bright stars around Betelgeuse. Looking clockwise, there is Rigel, then the “Dog Star” Sirius (the earth’s brightest star), Procyon (the Little Dog Star), then the Twin Stars of Castor and Pollux which mark the heads of the constellation Gemini. The Winter Circle finishes off with Capella (in Auriga) and Aldebaron (in Taurus).
Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org