January: Star light, star bright

The red supergiant Betelgeuse is one of the two brightest stars in Orion. Photo: Nerida Langcake

When observing the skies from our southern latitude this month, you will find the second brightest star, Canopus, in the constellation Carina sitting high in the sky, while Sirius, the brightest star in the entire night sky, is almost overhead. Orion dominates the view with its brightest stars, supergiants blue-white Rigel and red Betelgeuse, also high up, and the Orion Nebula (M42) placed high within the constellation.

The prominent ‘V’ shape of the Hyades open star cluster in Taurus is a fine sight to the naked eye or through binoculars, with nearby Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation, shining with a red-orange tint lower in the north. The Large Magellanic Cloud in the constellation Dorado can be seen with binoculars on January evenings. Among its sparkling stars you will find the Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070), which appears to the naked eye as a glowing patch the size of the full moon.

On Saturday, January 11, we will see a full moon, and throughout January Venus will be a brilliant object in the western sky and will be seen close to the moon on January 28.

The Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society will be holding its Summer Series public stargazing nights on Friday, January 3, Saturday, January 4, Friday, January 10, and Friday, January 17, at the MPAS Observatory at The Briars in Mount Martha. These start 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. These nights are great fun for the whole family; even the littlies get a thrill from holding a meteorite or looking through a telescope.

On January 15, the MPAS will show a video talk hosted by the Royal Society of Victoria by the University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor Duane Hamacher on the subject of Australian Indigenous astronomy, and the public are welcome to attend.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the January 2020 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.