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Star Gazing - January 13, 2020
Monday, Jan. 13
• Dimmed Betelgeuse. The red supergiant Betelgeuse marking Orion's shoulder has always been slightly
variable, but lately it has been in an unusually low dip: As of January 9th it was around visual magnitude
+1.4 instead of its more typical +0.5. That's actually fainter than Aldebaran, with which it's often compared,
magnitude +0.9. Where do you judge it? See Bob King's What’s Up With Betelgeuse?
And no, this does not mean Betelgeuse is about to go supernova, despite the overinflated hype going around
(friends and relatives keep asking me). Yes, it's nearing the end of its life — but on an astronomical
timescale! Expect to wait something like 100,000 years.
Tuesday, Jan. 14
• Sirius twinkles brightly after dinnertime below Orion in the southeast. Around 8 or 9 p.m., depending on
your location, Sirius shines precisely below fiery Betelgeuse in Orion's shoulder. How accurately can you
time this event for your location, perhaps using the vertical edge of a building? Of the two, Sirius leads early
in the evening; Betelgeuse leads later.
Wednesday, Jan. 15
• With the Moon gone from the early-evening sky, explore the stars and asterisms around the dim base of
Orion's Club — including little NGC 2169, the "37 Cluster" — using Matt Wedel's Binocular Highlight map
and column in the January Sky & Telescope, page 43.
With a telescope, tour Jerry Oltion's selection of winter's big, bright and beautifuls starting on page 58, and
explore the depths of Auriga with Deep-Sky Wonders starting on page 54.
Got a big scope and a very dark sky? Go deep-fishing in the Pisces Galaxy Cloud — 230 million light-years
deep — starting on page 58.
Thursday, Jan. 16
• Zero-magnitude Capella, very high in the east after dinnertime, and zero-magnitude Rigel, in Orion's foot,
have almost the same right ascension. This means they cross your sky’s meridian at almost exactly the same
time: around 9 or 10 p.m. now, depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. (Capella goes
exactly through your zenith if you're at latitude 46°N: Portland, Oregon; Montreal; central France.) So
whenever Capella passes highest, Rigel always marks true south over your landscape, and vice versa.
• Algol shines at its minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for about two hours centered
on 10:36 p.m. EST. Algol takes several additional hours to fade beforehand and to rebrighten after. At any
random time you glance up at Algol, you have only a 1-in-30 chance of catching it at least 1 magnitude
fainter than normal. So here's your opportunity. Comparison-star chart.
Friday, Jan. 17
• Last-quarter Moon (exact at 7:58 a.m. on this date). By the time it rises tonight around 1 a.m., it will have
waned slightly past exact last quarter. It'll be at the dim feet of Virgo then, with Spica to its upper right and
bright Arcturus higher to its upper left.
Saturday, Jan. 18
• Is your sky dark enough for you to see the winter Milky Way? In mid-evening now it runs vertically up and
across the zenith: from Canis Major low in the southeast, up between Orion and Gemini, through Auriga and
Perseus almost straight overhead, and down through Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus to the northwest
Starry, Starry Night . . .
"I know nothing of any certainty, but the sight of the stars
makes me dream." -Vincent Van Gogh