Western Slope Skies 1/3/14

For the latest episode of Western Slope Skies from the Black Canyon Astronomical Society, we'll learn about the bright stars of winter. 

Gaze to the east at about 8 PM on a clear January evening and enjoy the bright and colorful stars of winter.  A star chart, planisphere, or smart-phone App may help you navigate. 

The centerpiece of our wintery celestial display is the constellation Orion, now well above the southeastern horizon. 

Orion has been perceived as a mythical hunter, with bright, blue-white Rigel at his foot, and bright, reddish Betelgeuse at his left shoulder.   A line of three moderately bright stars defines Orion’s belt.

If you extend a line through Orion’s belt to the southeast, you will find brilliant Sirius, the night sky’s brightest star and one of our closest stellar neighbors.  

Rising in the east you will see bright Procyon, another stellar neighbor. North from Orion shines brilliant Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, now shining 4 times brighter than Sirius.

This winter Jupiter is moving against the stars of the constellation Gemini, just south of yellowish Pollux and white Castor.Very high in the eastern sky shine bright, golden Capella in constellation Auriga and reddish Aldebaran in constellation Taurus.          

People often ask: Why do the winter stars appear so bright? The answer is: Because they are bright!  

During winter nights, we are looking along the local arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, toward what astronomers call the Orion Complex. This is a group of bright and massive stars that have recently condensed from interstellar gas and dust that pervade our part of the Galaxy.

The colors of these stars indicate their temperatures. Red stars are cooler than our Sun, whereas blue-white stars are hotter.