Make a toast to the New Year’s Eve midnight sky

The Winter Triangle will greet your gaze at midnight tonight high in the south. To find your directions, face slightly to the right of the sunset direction – that’s west. Then stick out your right arm to point north, your left arm points south and east is at your back. Maps created with Stellarium

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.

The moon visits Leo’s brightest star Regulus tonight. Alphard, Hydra’s “alpha” star, shines meekly to the lower right of the moon.

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.

Have you missed the Big Dipper? Go out at midnight, look to the north and you’ll see your old friend has returned.

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.

The western sky at midnight is filled with departing constellations of fall including Aries the Ram and Andromeda.

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!

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

15 thoughts on “Make a toast to the New Year’s Eve midnight sky

  1. Hey bob. Wondering… were there any flyovers in vista ca last night ?? Like space station things?? Because 2 people i know were saying there was a ufo sighting in san marcos ca and i just know they arnt sure what they saw. Please let me know. Thank u

    • Leslie,
      The space station was visible from Vista, Calif. last night between 6:13 and 6:19 p.m. Started in the northwest, reached its highest point in the south and then dropped off into the southeastern sky.

  2. Happy New Year Bob, hoping that you have a great astronomical year. If I even get to Duluth again (I haven’t been there for many years now), I will try to look you up.

  3. Aloha astroBob!

    I sincerely hope you had a wonderful time welcoming in the New Year last night and that 2013 turns out to be one of the best (if not THE best) years in your life.

    Sigh…seems strange sometimes when during the day I read your “blog” about what to look for in the night sky and then it clouds up and rains/sprinkles all night long! Oh well, at least when it does this on New Years Eve it tends to keep the fireworks in the neighborhood down to a minimum. Plus, living on the north shore of the one Hawaiian island that boasts having “the wettest spot on earth”, I should expect the clouds. What’s great about the Cosmos is it will be there for another night, among many other things!

    What I find as another “happening” that’s strange is how there are NO NEO’s that have been found for the entire month of January! Could this actually be true? Hopefully, this is a sign that there are lots of other things to watch for in our universe during the month. Am I correct in that assumption?

    I just wanted to stop by with my New Year greeting and bring up this seemingly strange “vacancy” to see if you’ve heard anything different. Have you?

    Stay healthy and dress warmly before venturing out in that “Minnesota Winter” weather, Bob. Those of us who follow your blogs really enjoy them and certainly don’t ever want to see the day we “check in” and you’re not here! (Perish the thought!)

    Aloha For Now!

    • Hi Wayne,
      Thanks for the friendly and humid greetings from Hawaii. May your 2013 be rich with astronomical wonders! I assume your referring to the Spaceweather list of NEOs. Assuming the list is complete, it is a bit of a surprise. Probably there are but no orbits have been firmed up yet. I guarantee that more will be discovered soon. Many are found each week.

      • Aloha astroBob!

        Your assumption is correct about spaceweather.com. My apologies for not specifying which list I tend to follow most. I should know better since there seems to be many websites that “act” like they know what they’re talking about (read: factual) when in reality, whoever is running them tends not to know real “facts”.

        It’s weird Bob, there hasn’t been ANY NEO’s listed for January 2013 for as long as they’ve shown the list for December 2012 through February (now March)2013! My curiosity just piqued enough for me to ask you about it and if you’ve heard anything different.

        I know what you mean by new NEO’s being found every week, because I check the “spaceweather” list every day and for a while in December it seemed new NEO’s would show up on any given DAY! The way the discoveries of these NEO’s usually go, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one right now (albeit relatively small) or soon to be discovered at its closest orbit to us any day during the month. Know what I mean? (No fault is being put on the many professional and amateur astronomers out there since these things are VERY hard to detect in the vastness of the universe!)

        I initially found this “spaceweather” site when I wanted info on the Suns’ activity and just happened to find the NEO list at the bottom. I also like how they show an actual “map” of the orbits of these NEO’s when you double click on a specific one (and you can make any planet or the Sun the center of the “map”). Which explains your answer regarding “no orbits”, since without one, they can’t create the “map”. I know exactly what you mean.

        Thanks for replying.

        Aloha For Now!

  4. Hi Bob
    I am a bit confused with Wayne’s comment that there is no NEO have been found for the entire month of January, as this is only the first day in January, and JPl have a list for January, could you explain this a bit please. Thanks :-)

  5. Bob, can you tell me how I get to the list or past list’s as when I go onto spaceweather I can’t see a link to it. Thanks

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