Most of us will be wandering around at midnight tonight, right? Why not peek outside to see what’s happening in the sky at a time when we’re normally asleep?
Jupiter beams brightly high in the southwestern sky, but it’s Orion and Sirius that might catch your eye first. During the early evening Orion reclines in the east; by midnight he’s standing straight up staring you in the face. At his lower left, romping and ready for the hunt, is the Great Dog, Canis Major. Sirius, the most brilliant star in the heavens, sparkles from his collar. Yipping for attention well above Orion is the little chihuahua dog Canis Minor with its luminary Procyon. Connect the little Dog Star with Sirius and Orion’s ruby Betelgeuse to form the Winter Triangle.
Off to the east, the waning gibbous moon in Cancer isn’t far from Regulus, Leo the Lion’s brightest star. Direct your gaze two outstretched fists to the lower right of the moon to catch sight of Alphard in Hydra the Water Snake, a transitional winter-spring constellation. Even Leo carries a whiff of spring as it rides up in the east – come April, it will rule the southern sky at nightfall.
In the north, we see that the Big Dipper, which has been slumbering away along the northern horizon all fall, has finally returned to the tray-table upright position in the northeast. The Dipper is the brightest portion of Ursa Major the Great Bear and always strikes me as a little funny at this hour standing on his tail (handle). The ancients, who created the constellations, obviously loved animals – and perhaps a good circus act – as much as we do.
Queen Cassiopeia belongs to the northern sky but also partakes of the west at this hour. The W-shaped constellation stands on its end opposite the Big Dipper. Between them lies the always reliable North Star also known as Polaris. Like that person you can always count on being there for you, we know where to find our Polaris.
A line of stars angling northwestward is the brightest part of Andromeda the Chained Princess. She dominated the sky overhead sky earlier in the evening, but by the midnight hour the princess repairs to her western bed. Higher up you’ll see the familiar Pleiades star cluster and the curliques of stars forming the constellation Perseus the Hero.
Raise your glass tonight in a toast to the good old stars at the start of a brand new year.
Happy New Year everyone!