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Special events this month:

Quantrantid Meteor Shower 1st to 4th January

Total Lunar Eclipse 21st January


The chart above shows the night sky as it appears on 15th January at 21:00 (9 o'clock) in the evening Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As the Earth orbits the Sun and we look out into space each night the stars will appear to have moved across the sky by a small amount. Every month Earth moves one twelfth of its circuit around the Sun, this amounts to 30 degrees each month. There are about 30 days in each month so each night the stars appear to move about 1 degree. The sky will therefore appear the same as shown on the chart above at 10 o'clock GMT at the beginning of the month and at 8 o'clock GMT at the end of the month. The stars also appear to move 15º (360º divided by 24) each hour from east to west, due to the Earth rotating once every 24 hours.

The centre of the chart will be the position in the sky directly overhead, called the Zenith. First we need to find some familiar objects so we can get our bearings. The Pole Star Polaris can be easily found by first finding the familiar shape of the Great Bear ‘Ursa Major' that is also sometimes called the Plough or even the Big Dipper by the Americans. Ursa Major is visible throughout the year from Britain and is always easy to find. This month it is in the north east. Look for the distinctive saucepan shape, four stars forming the bowl and three stars forming the handle. Follow an imaginary line, up from the two stars in the bowl furthest from the handle. These will point the way to Polaris which will be to the north of overhead at about 50º above the northern horizon. Polaris is the only moderately bright star in a fairly empty patch of sky. When you have found Polaris turn completely around and you will be facing south. To use this chart, position yourself looking south and hold the chart above your eyes.

Planets observable this month: Mars, Uranus and Neptune (early evening).

There will be a Meteor Shower in the early hours of 3rd January called the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.

There will be a Total Lunar Eclipse visible from the whole of Europe from 03:00 until 06:30 in the early morning of Monday 21st January 2019.


The Southern Night Sky during January 2019 at 21:00 GMT

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 17:00 GMT on 15th January. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith or Nadir and is shown at the centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations'.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Aquarius (the Water Carrier), Piscis (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab) and Leo (the Lion).

The Milky Way (our Galaxy) flows up from the south eastern horizon through Orion and Gemini . It continues up through Perseus and Cassiopea and on into Cygnus which is now disappearing over the western horizon.

Mars is still in a reasonable position, for observing during the early evening, now in the constellation of Piscis. Above Mars is the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse). The main feature of Pegasus is the square formed by the four brightest stars. This asterism (shape) is known as the Great Square of Pegasus. The square is larger than might be expected but once found is easier to find again.

Joined to the upper left star (Alpheratz) of the Square of Pegasus is the ‘ > ' shape of Andromeda. Following the lower line of stars to Mirach and then up to the second star, M31 the Great Galaxy can be found.

Along the Ecliptic is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). The stick figure representation of Taurus resembles a squashed ‘X' with the bright orange coloured Red Giant star Aldebaran at its centre. This is a lovely star to look at especially using binoculars or a telescope and does look noticeably orange in colour.

Following the western (right) and Northern (upper) arm of the ‘X' shape of Taurus guides us to the beautiful Pleiades ‘naked eye' Open Star Cluster. This bright Open Cluster with its seven brightest stars is known as M45, the Pleiades or ‘Seven Sisters'.

To the east of Taurus along the Ecliptic is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). The twin stars Castor and Pollux are easy to identify.

Below Gemini is Orion the constellation of the month, last month. Orion is depicted as a hunter with two hunting dogs called Sirius and Procyon. There are two stars that represent Orion's hunting dogs and they are also called Sirius and Procyon. Sirius and Procyon are the brightest stars in the constellations of Canis Major (the great dog) and Canis Minor (the little dog).

Almost overhead this month is the very distinctive ‘W' shape of the constellation of Cassiopeia. The central ‘?‘ of the ‘W' points approximately towards Polaris the ‘Pole' or ‘North Star' star. There is a distinct line of stars leading up towards Cassiopeia this is the constellation of Perseus. At the top of the line of stars and about half way to the ‘W' a ‘fuzzy patch can be seen this is the lovely binocular view ‘Double Cluster'.

There will be a Total Lunar Eclipse visible from the whole of Europe from 03:00 until 06:30 in the early morning of Monday 21st January 2019 .



The constellations of Orion, Canis Major and Canis Minor

Orion is one of the easiest constellations to recognise and dominates the southern sky at this time of the year. There are many depictions of Orion shown on many different star charts. Orion the Hunter appears in the winter sky, with his club held over his head and his shield (sometimes shown as a lion's skin) held out in front of him. His hunting dogs, Canis Major (the star Sirius) and Canis Minor (the star Procyon) following behind him. See the chart above.

If an imaginary line is traced down from Orion's belt for about six belt lengths towards the south eastern horizon, a bright twinkling star will be seen. This is Sirius, Orion's Large Hunting Dog in the constellation of Canis Major. It is the brightest and closest star to be seen from the UK at just 8.6 light years from us.

Following an imaginary line through the two bright upper stars at Orion's shoulders, Bellatrix and Betelgeuse to Orion's left (east) a quite bright star in a rather large empty area of sky can be seen. This is Procyon in Canis Minor, Orion's Small Hunting Dog.

The chart above shows the location of Sirius and Procyon, Orion's Hunting Dogs. Although the two stars are associated with Orion through their mythological link with the Hunter and their proximity to Orion in the night sky they are actually much closer to us and not associated with the stars of Orion at all.

Sirius is in fact a double star but its companion is quite unusual. The bright star Sirius that we see sparkling close to the horizon is the larger and overall brighter of the pair. We call the visible component of the pair Sirius A (the Dog Star) and the companion star Sirius B (It is sometimes called the Pup) .

Sirius is in fact the closest star to Earth that we can see from the Northern Hemisphere and is just 8.6 light years away . It is about twice as massive as our Sun but about 25.4 times brighter. Sirius B is a tiny (in diameter) star about the same volume as Earth but with a mass about the same as our Sun.

An artist's impression of Sirius A and B

Sirius B formed about 230 million years ago as the largest star of the original pair. It was about 4 times the mass of our Sun and fused its Hydrogen fuel into Helium very quickly. It lived out its Main Sequence phase (life as a normal star) much faster than its smaller companion. It is thought Sirius B developed into a Red Giant around 120 million years ago. The Red Giant then collapsed to form the White Dwarf we see today. It is now a super dense sphere comprised mainly of Carbon and Oxygen and about 11,600km in diameter.

Sirius B no longer produces heat through nuclear fusion but is very hot due to the compression when it collapsed from its Red Giant phase. It now has a temperature of 25,000°K and shines brilliantly white. The Pup is thought to be spinning very rapidly and orbits around a common centre of gravity with Sirius A every 50 Earth years. The two very different stars are separated by 20 AU (1 AU is the Earth / Sun distance). This is approximately the distance from Earth to Uranus.

Sirius A and B imaged by Hubble.

The picture above was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope with a camera that has a special mask to reduce the glare of Sirius A. Sirius B can be seen to the lower left as a small white dot. Sirius B cannot be seen using any normal amateur's telescope.

An image of Orion and Sirius (lower left)

Sirius is beautiful to look at as it twinkles close to the southern horizon. It can be seen to twinkle to the ‘naked eye' but a pair of binoculars or a telescope will show it flashing brilliantly with all the colours of the rainbow. Sirius the star is not twinkling this is due to atmospheric turbulence. Air close to the horizon is misty, dirty and affected by heat from the ground which causes turbulence and it is this that makes the light twinkle.

Sirius will be at its best over the Christmas period and into the New Year. The Dog Star is just a star but it is definitely one of the most beautiful to look at.

Sirius is the best known ‘Dog Star' but Procyon the Little Hunting Dog is well worth looking out. Coincidently it is also a double star and the companion is also a White Dwarf. However when the stars are examined more closely they are found to be quite different to the Sirius pair.

Procyon A has a significantly smaller mass than Sirius A (1.5 solar masses compared to 2 for Sirius A) and Procyon A is much further along its life span. Being smaller Procyon A will have a longer active life than the larger and greedier Sirius A. Having said that Procyon A is already a lot older than Sirius A and is already starting its transformation into a Red Giant.

Procyon B is also smaller than Sirius B at just 0.6 Solar masses compared to Sirius B at 1.0 Solar mass. It has a larger diameter than Sirius B at 17,200km compared to 11,600km. This is due the additional super gravity of the more massive Sirius B pulling its material into an even more compact sphere.

The comparative size of Procyon B and Earth

White Dwarfs are created when a star, normally up to about 5 times the mass of our Sun, collapse after completing their Red Giant phase. White Dwarfs can exist up to a mass of 1.44 times the mass of our Sun where further collapse is prevented by a process called ‘ electron degeneracy pressure ' .

Smaller stars tend to produce a White Dwarf comprised of a core of highly compressed Carbon and Oxygen surrounded by a shallow but extremely dense atmosphere of Hydrogen. Some large White Dwarfs are thought to be composed of Carbon so compressed it has been turned to Diamond.

If a Red Giant star collapses and the resulting White Dwarf has a mass greater than 1.44 solar masses it will continue to collapse. The ‘ electron degeneracy pressure ' resistance will be overcome and the core will collapse to form an even denser ‘Neutron Star'. Due to the enormous density of these stars all the sub atomic particles have been forced to be transformed into Neutrons. They spin very fast and have an extremely strong magnetic field. Some of the extreme examples are called a ‘Magnatar'.

A Neutron Star has a diameter of about 25 km but can have a mass between 1.44 and up to about 4 Solar Masses, depending on the chemical composition of the original star. Up to this upper mass limit further collapse can be halted by a process called ‘Neutron degeneracy pressure ' .

If this upper mass is exceeded then the star core will overcome the ‘Neutron degeneracy pressure ' and collapse even further to create a ‘Stellar Black Hole'. A Stellar Black hole is a very small object that has such powerful gravity that to escape would require an escape velocity faster that light so nothing can escape . These objects can be hundreds of times the mass of our Sun.

The life and death of different sized stars

So in the stars of Orion and his Hunting Dogs we can see the full life cycle of all types of stars. We can stars in the process of being formed (born) in the gas clouds (Nebulae) of M42. There are small stars and very large stars some in their prime and others in the latter stages of their lives. Smaller stars like Procyon will eventually become Red Giants and finally collapse to become a White Dwarf and a Planetary Nebula. This gives us an insight to the eventual fate of our own star The Sun. Giant Blue / White stars like Rigel in Orion will become Red Super Giants like Betelgeuse that will explode as a Supernova to become a Neutron Star or even a Stellar Black Hole. The whole sky around Orion is a great place to witness the life of stars.



MERCURY is moving back towards the Sun and will be in Superior Conjunction on 30th January. This means it will pass behind the Sun from our point of view. So it is low and still too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn in the east at 07:45

VENUS was at its point of greatest illumination on 2nd December. It will be at its Furthest Western Elongation from the Sun on 6 th January. It rises over the eastern horizon at about 04:15 and will be very bright in the south east even as the sky brightens in the dawn sky.

MARS is still well placed in the early evening. It is low over the southern western horizon in turbulent and smoggy air. The Red Planet is moving away from Earth and looking smaller at 7.0 arc-seconds in diameter but still bright at magnitude +0.7.

JUPITER is moving out from its conjunction with the Sun on 26th November and now rises over the eastern horizon around 05:15 about 2½ hours before sunrise.

SATURN will be in conjunction with the Sun on 2nd January so will not be visible this month.

Uranus, Neptune and Mars at 18:30 on 15th January

URANUS will be in an observable position in the south west in the early evening but is moving towards the south western horizon. A good pair of 9x50 binoculars will reveal a slightly fuzzy blue, star like, object. A telescope at a magnification of 100x will show it as a small blue/green disc. See the chart above.

NEPTUNE is still in view this month but sets in the west at 20:50. A telescope will be needed to show Neptune as a small blue/green disc using a magnification of 100x but it is small and difficult to find.


The Sun has been very quiet over the last few weeks as can be expected in its inactive phase. There have been no significant sunspots. The Sun rises at 08:04 at the beginning of the month and at 07:50 by the end of the month. It will be setting at 16:05 at the beginning and 16:40 at the end of the month.


The ‘New Moon' will always be seen in the west after the Sun has set over the western horizon. At this phase the Moon will be emerging from conjunction with the Sun (passing between Earth and the Sun). So the far side of the Moon will be illuminated and we will see a small amount of the bright sunlit side on the edge of the Moon. The rest of the Moon will be in darkness, see 7th January on the chart below.

Seven days after conjunction with the Sun, the Moon will have moved a quarter of the way around its orbit of Earth. As the sky darkens in the evening the Moon will be seen in the south as a ‘Half Moon' shape, see 14th January on the chart below. This period, when the Moon crescent appears to be widening, is called ‘Waxing'. The wider than crescent shape of the Moon after ‘Half Moon' is called ‘Gibbous'.

After fourteen days the Moon will have moved half way around its orbit and will be on the opposite side of Earth to the Sun. In other words while the Sun is setting in the west the Moon will be rising over the eastern horizon. Sunlight will shine past Earth and illuminate the whole surface of the Moon facing Earth so we will see a ‘Full Moon' rise over the eastern horizon, see 21st January on the chart below.

After ‘Full Moon' the Moon will enter its ‘Waning' phase (becoming narrower). Twenty one days after conjunction with the Sun the Moon will have travelled three quarters of the way around its orbit. As the Sun sets over the western horizon the Moon will be around the daylight side of Earth. We will have to wait for six hours for the ‘half Moon' to appear over the eastern horizon. At this time of the year the Moon will rise over the eastern horizon at about 22:00 as a ‘Waning' ‘half Moon' but the opposite side to the ‘Waxing' first ‘half Moon' will be illuminated by the Sun, see 28th January on the chart below.

The Moon will finally appear thinner each night and rise over the eastern horizon about one hour later each night. This phase will be visible in the early hours of the morning as the Moon rises before the Sun and appears to approach the Sun closer each successive morning, see 29th January to 3rd February on the chart below.

New Moon will be on the 6th January

First Quarter will be on 14th January

Full Moon will be on 21st January

Last Quarter will be on 27th January


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The Radiant of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower

There will be a meteor shower at the beginning of this month, called the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. The shower is active between 1 st and 4 th January with a noticeable increase in activity in the early morning hours of 3 rd January. There will be no Moon so the brighter Quadrantids will still be visible even in a light polluted sky especially later on through the night.

The Quadrantids are associated with an asteroid 2003 EH1. The asteroid takes about 5.5 years to orbit around the Sun. This means that some of the meteoroids (the particles moving through space) may be of a rocky nature so they will often be bright and survive for quite a long time. When they enter Earth's atmosphere, about 100km up, they often produce a bright and persistent trail.

The type of meteor that occurs in showers usually originates from a comet and is much more common than the longer lasting and brighter trails that generally originate from asteroids. The Quadrantid shower owes its name to the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis.

The constellation was left off a list of constellations drawn up by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922. However as the shower had already been named after Quadrans Muralis, its name was not changed. The Quadrantids are also sometimes called Boötids after the modern constellation of Boötes where it's radiant is located .

Quadrantid meteors appear to radiate from, what is now, the upper part of the constellation of Bo?tes which is above the horizon from around midnight. As Boötes is close to the North Eastern horizon the meteors radiating down will not be visible. The meteors can be seen for most of the night and in almost any part of the sky but about 45° above the eastern horizon might be best.

If you are intending to have a look remember to wrap up warm before you go out because you will soon feel very cold and that will spoil your enjoyment of the shower. Make yourself comfortable in a garden lounger chair and spend at least an hour looking.

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The Phases of a Lunar Eclipse

In the early morning of Mon day 21st January there will be a Total Lunar Eclipse. These events go largely un-noticed by the general public , most of whom are probably not even aware that the Moon is eclipsed by the Earth's shadow.

At about 0 2 : 36 on Mon day morning the Moon will enter the outer part of Earth's shadow known as the penumbra. The first phase, when the Moon moves through the penumbra, will hardly be noticeable. At about 0 3:33 the Moon will enter the Umbra, the inner and fully dark part of Earth's shadow. The curve of the edge of Earth will soon become apparent. As the shadow progresses across the Moon the comparative size of the Earth will be seen.

The Moon entering the Umbra imaged by Steve Harris on 28th September 2015

At about 0 4:41 the Moon will be completely inside the umbra of Earth's shadow and will remain completely inside the Umbra until 5:43 . During this time the moon may almost disappear from view but this is not always the case; often an amazing effect can be seen.

All the light falling on the Moon from the Sun should be blocked by Earth but some does get past. The thin surface layer of our atmosphere acts rather like a lens and bends some sunlight around the curved surface of Earth and separates out the colours .

As the light is bent the colours are separated in the same way that a prism separates light into the spectrum. The red part of the sunlight is bent more and is able to illuminate the surface of the Moon. Most of the remaining colours of the sunlight are scattered and miss the Moon so the surface becomes bathed in red light.

So between 04:41 and 05:43 the moon will be completely inside the central Umbra of Earth's shadow and will appear as an eerie orange globe hovering in the sky.

If we could view the Earth from the Moon at this time, the Sun would be completely blocked out by Earth. As the Moon moves out of the Umbra the Sun will appear as a smaller crescent peeping around the edge of Earth.

Totality on 28th September 2015 image Steve Harris

The effect can be quite spectacular as it was during the 2015 Total Lunar Eclipse. The Moon appeared copper red and seemed to just hover in the clear cloudless evening sky. The effect does depend on the amount of dust and pollution in the atmosphere. Any recent volcanic eruptions can produce a stunning colour as in 2007. An early alarm setting and a clear view to the south west will be required to catch the whole event. It is also a spectacular event to capture for the keen photographer.

Chart showing the location of the Moon at 04:00 on Monday 21st January

If you are intending to have a look remember to wrap up warm before you go out because you will soon feel very cold and that will spoil your enjoyment of the Lunar Eclipse. Make yourself comfortable in a garden lounger chair. If you are intending to any photographs it may be useful to warm a refrigerator ice pack (by immersing it in warm water) and somehow placing it close to the camera lens in an endeavor to reduce dew forming on the lens.

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