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Starry, Starry, Night


■ After dinnertime, the enormous Andromeda-Pegasus complex runs from near the zenith way down toward the western horizon.

Barely west of the zenith, spot Andromeda’s high foot: 2nd-magnitude Gamma Andromedae (Almach), slightly orange. Andromeda is standing on her head. About halfway down from the zenith to the west horizon is the Great Square of Pegasus, balancing on one corner. Andromeda’s head is its top corner. From the bottom corner run the stars outlining Pegasus’s neck and head, ending at his nose: 2nd-magnitude Enif, due west. It too is slightly orange.


■ First-quarter Moon; exact at 1:11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Come evening the Moon shines high in dim Pisces, some 10° west of 4th-magnitude al-Rescha, the Knot of the two fishes’ cords.

■ Very high in the southwest some three fists above Jupiter, the Great Square of Pegasus remains tipped on one corner. The Square’s horizontal diagonal points left nearly at the Moon (by about its own length).


■ The big Northern Cross in Cygnus, topped by Deneb, is nearly upright in the west-northwest right after full darkness falls. Another hour or so and it’s standing on the horizon. How straight up it stands depends on your latitude.


■ The Gemini twins lie on their sides these January evenings, left of Orion. Their head stars, Castor and Pollux, are farthest from Orion, one over the other. (Castor is the top one, slightly the fainter of the two.) The Castor figure’s feet are just left of Orion’s very dim, upraised Club.


■ Low in the sunset, Mercury has now faded to be less than twice as bright as Saturn; they’re magnitudes +0.1 and +0.7, respectively. See below. Mercury will be further dimmed with respect to Saturn by the thicker atmospheric extinction at its lower altitude.

■ Auriga the Charioteer rides high these evenings astride the Milky Way, awaiting your eyes and scope. Use Ken Hewitt-White’s “Suburban Stargazer” guide with its chart of telescopic targets in central Auriga (working out from the Leaping Minnow and False Minnow asterisms) in the January Sky & Telescope, page 54.


■ Zero-magnitude Capella high overhead, and equally bright 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. So whenever Capella passes its very highest, Rigel always marks true south over your landscape, and vice versa.

Capella goes exactly through your zenith if you’re at latitude 46° north: Portland, Oregon; Montreal; central France.


■ Here it is the coldest very bottom of the year, but the Summer Star, Vega, is still barely hanging in. Look for it twinkling over the northwest horizon during and shortly after nightfall. The farther north you are the higher it will be. If you’re as far south as Florida, it’s already gone.

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