Whats Up, Ron? is a monthly almanac for Northern American astronomersastras


Astra's Almanac

January 2012 - Vol. 16, No. 1

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Features: Calendar | Lunar Almanac | Monthly Topic

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

Angular Measurement Review: It is interesting to note that the relationship between the angle subtended by combinations of fingers on your fully outstretched arm are the same for all viewers. This is due to the fact that the hand's size is proportional to the arm's length. A shorter arm is attached to a smaller hand while a longer arm is attached to a larger hand, thus the angle measured remains the same. If you hold your arm fully outstretched, your little finger, when sighted down your arm, is one degree wide. Your three middle fingers is five degrees, your fist, 10 degrees, and the distance between your little finger and your pointer finger is 15 degrees no matter what your age or size.

The winter night sky is now showing its feature objects. The famous open star cluster, the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, Orion the hunter with his shining belt and hazy M42, the Great Orion Nebula, and the hunting dogs - - Canis Major and Canis Minor grace the heavens with their brilliant stars. To the E the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, are the northern most of the ecliptic constellations. The cold nights are filled with brilliant stars and the winter Milky Way is best seen from a dark site.

MERCURY may be visible in SE predawn sky early in the month but will be lost in the sun thereafter. VENUS will be bright about the SW horizon after sunset, still rising higher. MARS rises in the late evening, between the constellations of Leo and Virgo, it's disk will keep growing until it reaches opposition on March 3.Still bright, JUPITER begins setting in the W during the early hours of the morning. SATURN rises after midnight, near the first magnitude star, Spica. The Quandrantids Meteor Shower peaks during the night of the January 3-4.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time.; Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

Quadrantids Meteor Shower. Thr best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight, meteors radiate from the constellation Bootes. (30-40 an hour)
The gibbous Moon will be seen between the horns of Taurus.
The Moon, Saturn and Mars dance with the constellation Virgo
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Lunar Almanac for January 2012

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s)

Best viewed before local midnight


Deep Space Objects

1st. Qtr
1, 30

Planets & Moon



Qtr 16

Deep Space & Planets

Topic of the month: Orion's Stars

The winter sky brings the return of the great hunter, Orion, one of the best known constellations in the sky. One of the distinct characteristics of Orion is the fact that it contains two stars of first magnitude. Betelguese is the shoulder of the great hunter, while Rigel is at his foot. The famous Betelgeuse, a red giant star that is 570 light years away. Betelgeuse, or Alpha Orionis, is a variable star that varies from 0.4 to 1.3 magnitude. It has an orangish huge, due to the fact that it is a red giant spectal type. The color of Betelgeuse should be compared to Rigel, the other first magnitude star of the constellation. Rigel is also a giant star, but it is a blue giant. It is a young star, rather than an old star, like Betelgeuse that is approaching the end of its evolutionary cycle. Rigel is one of the brightest stars of the Milky Way. At 860 light years, it still is a first magnitude star and one of the most distance ones at that. (Comparable to Deneb, in the constellation of the swan.) Bellatrix at 1.6 magnitude forms the other shoulder and Saiph at 2.1 magnitude the foot opposite Rigel.

Orion's belt stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are second magnitude stars, but set off the whole constellation and are most memorable to earthbound humans. The three stars cover three degrees of the sky and have been used as pointers to other nearby stars and constellatiions. Mintaka is a double star, small telescopes or binoculars should reveal the 6.9 magnitude companion. Alnitak is a multiple star system. Below the belt is the fuzzy nebula called the Great Nebula of Orion. This patch of fuzz can be seen even in a city sky, by a keen eyed observer. At the heart of the nebula is a multiple star called the Trapezium. The Trapezium has many members and amateurs can test their equipment and their skill at spotting them. These stars are young, as they were created in the heart of the nebula. The pressure from the solar wind escaping from these stars blows away the gaseous nebula, leaving them to shine more clearly. In order to identify the components, astronomers designate the four brightest stars A, B, C, and D in order of right ascension. The C star is the brightest member of the group. Additional stars designated E, F, G, and H have also been identified as belonging to the group. Some of these young stars are variable, or eclipsing variables and may be doubles or multiples. Although they may help some astronomers judge the sky conditions, their variable nature may confuse the issue. The Orion nebula is part of the Orion arm of the Milky Way galaxy and is a place where new stars are being born.

Orion is sometimes called the Giant. Because Orion contains an arm of the galaxy, it is loaded with other beautiful nebulosities that won't be covered in this short article on this deep subject. Orion is located just off the south side of the ecliptic as drawn by modern astronomers. It resides between the ecliptic constellations of Taurus and Gemini. The winter Milky Way that can be seen from dark sites contains some of the most beautiful wonders of the heavens.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra's new almanac based on Ron Leeseberg's work

This installment of "Whats Up?" is ©2012 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue

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