January: Prime time for viewing deep sky objects

The beautiful Rosette Nebula is a large nebula in the constellation Monoceros. It is a cosmic cloud of gas and dust about 5000 light-years away and has a flower-like appearance. The open cluster NGC 2244 is closely associated with the nebulosity, the stars of the cluster having been formed from the nebula’s matter. This image is a narrow view of the centre region, with lots of dust and gas. Photo: MPAS member Steve Mohr

The constellations best seen in January are Caelum, Dorado, Lepus, Mensa, Orion, Pictor, Reticulum and Taurus. Two of these constellations – Orion and Taurus – are quite prominent in the evening sky, while others are simply best observed this month. January is the best time of year to observe several famous deep sky objects located in these constellations. The most popular telescope targets include the Orion Nebula (M42), the Crab Nebula (M1), the Pleiades (M45) and Hyades clusters, and the Large Magellanic Cloud.

In the constellation Gemini, the bright star Castor is an interesting target if observed through a telescope. Appearing as a single star to the unaided eye, Castor is actually a multiple star system composed of six stars, three of which can be observed with an amateur telescope.

Sitting at the heels of Orion, the constellation Canis Major – the Greater Dog – is home to Sirius, the brightest star in the entire night sky. Designated Alpha (α) Canis Majoris and known as the ‘dog star’, Sirius is a brilliant white star with a magnitude of -1.4. Canis Major represents one of the two hunting dogs of Orion, the Hunter, which sits nearby. It is home to two fine open clusters, NGC 2362 and M41.

On January 7, Mercury will be at its greatest eastern elongation of 19.2 degrees from the sun. 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 western sky just after sunset.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the January 2022 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.