January: Let’s go hunting among the stars in Orion

The dominant dusty section of this image forms part of the larger cometary globule known as CG12, with the blue reflection nebula NGC 5367 in the lower right corner. These objects are in the constellation Centaurus, about 2000 light-years from Earth. Photo by MPAS member Steven Mohr

This month the constellation Orion is ideally placed high in the sky. While exploring it you will see the Orion Nebula, M42, a bright deep-sky object lying north of the chain or the three stars that make up Orion’s belt. The nebula is easily visible through binoculars and can be seen with the naked eye as a hazy patch. Also seen with binoculars is the Large Magellanic Cloud in the constellation Dorado, where among its sparkling stars you will find the Tarantula Nebula, which appears to the naked eye as a glowing patch the size of the full moon. Do not forget the Small Magellanic Cloud in Tucana either – it lies towards the southwestern horizon this month, and its star fields and clusters can be seen with binoculars or a small telescope. 

Looking south, the constellations Vela, Carina, and the long and winding Eridanus are all on show at this time of the year. The planetary nebula NGC 3132 in Vela is an interesting object when seen through a telescope. Also in Vela, the open star cluster NGC 2547 is a good target for binoculars. Use a small telescope to bring into focus the scattered open cluster M47 in the constellation Puppis, the Stern.

On January 24 we can see Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation. This is the best time to view Mercury because it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the planet low in the west just after sunset.

Throughout this month, the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society will be holding its Summer Series public stargazing nights on Saturday, January 2; Friday, January 8; Friday, January 15; and Friday, January 22 at the MPAS Observatory at The Briars in Mount Martha. Each starts at 8pm with a multimedia talk and Q&A before moving outside to view the moon, planets, stars and clusters through a wide array of telescopes supplied by the society and members. Tickets are limited and bookings are necessary, so don’t miss out!

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the January 2021 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.