At any moment of the day, countless awe-inspiring celestial events are unfolding in the sky. With a universe of options, it can be hard to pin down what to observe, what to look into or what to remember. This column takes a peek at what’s happening in the sky and in the world of astronomy in general to provide a quick list of highlights that can jumpstart your own explorations.
What to observe:
February 6 – Jupiter at Opposition
Now is an ideal time to get a good look at our solar system’s most domineering planet. On February 6th, Jupiter will be at opposition, which means it is essentially at a position directly opposite of the Sun when viewed from Earth. Around the same time, it will be closer to Earth than at any other time up until 2019. The combination of these factors puts the giant planet in a prime viewing position from dusk until dawn, peaking at midnight local time. Due to the fact that it will be visible for so long, it is possible to see the entirety of the planet in one night because it takes just under 10 hours for Jupiter to complete a full rotation. Ranked as the fourth brightest celestial object, Jupiter can be found on the eastern horizon in the Cancer Constellation. With the naked eye, it will manifest as a stunningly bright point of light, but a modest telescope may reveal the giant planet’s impressive cloud belts, its turbulent Great Red Spot or any of the four Galilean moons.
Canis Major Constellation
Visible from 60° North to 90° South, the Canis Major Constellation is an excellent stargazing target this time of year in both hemispheres. Channeling the Great Dog it represents, Canis Major bounds through the night sky on the heels of the Lepus or “Hare” constellation and stands as the faithful companion to Orion the Hunter, whose belt can be used to easily locate it. Although the constellation contains a number of notable sights, its most prominent celestial treasure is Sirius - the brightest star in the sky. Often called the Dog Star due to its prime spot in the Canis Major Constellation, Sirius is actually a binary star system. Sirius A is the domineering white main sequence star that has inspired centuries of lore and held cultural significance since ancient times. Sirius B, which was not discovered until 1862, is the dim white dwarf star that humbly orbits its brilliant companion. The constellation is also home to Adhara, a luminous blue star that has the unique honor of being the brightest source of ultraviolet light in Earth’s sky after the Sun. In addition to its stellar offerings, Canis Major also has its share of deep sky wonders including the Messier 41 open cluster that has about 100 stars; the colliding spiral galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163; and the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, which has a large number of red giant stars. Discovered in 2003, this deep sky object, which is thought to be the nearest galaxy to our solar system, is apparently being pulled apart by the Milky Way’s gravitational field.