Whats up in January´s Night Sky?

January 15, 2020

My Favourite time of year.

A lot of people don´t realise the Night Sky changes throughout the year I´ve discovered on my tour.  The “winter” constellation though are amoungst some of my favourite,  Although Summer is perhaps more recognisable for our guests to view Saturn´s rings and Jupiter’s strips and Galilean moons, the constellation in Winter, to me anyway, seem to have far brighter more prominent stars and better stories behind them.  You just have to brave the cold to see them (yes even here in Tenerife).

another galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 million Light Years away

This January we have been looking at some amazing deep space objects such as The Andromeda Galaxy and Orion Nebula.  We have even been observing the infamous Betelgeuse Super Red Giant and the Brightest Star in the sky Sirius.

I love Betelgeuse and even more so this year with so many people having read about it´s possible untimely demise.  Betelgeuse has been continuously observed for around 25 years and we have always know that it is a star in its final stages.  The star is approximately 950 times larger than our own sun and about 600 ‘ 650 light years away from the Earth.  Although a variable star in the last month it has lost about 20% of its luminosity (brightness) so some suspect it could be about to go SuperNova.  That would be pretty special to see if it did, as the last star to explode in supernova witnessed with the human eye from Earth was way back in th 11th century.  Recorded by the Chinese astronomers, they said it was as bright as the Full Moon when it exploded and they recorded seeing it in the day time for up to a month after it happened.   Maybe this rare event will happen whilst we are observing it?  I do hope so.

Messier 42 Orion Nebula
Messier 42 The Orion Nebula.

We all love to talk about the Violent Universe as endings of a star such as Betelgeuse.  So in a somewhat lesser way but in a BBC impartiality & fairness manner, we also love to talk about the birth of new stars (well in an astronomical sense).  The Orion Nebula is probably the clearest brightest nebula to view (northern hemisphere anyway).   I love to show it and explain whats happening there.  Very often we have people on tour asking how many stars are we looking at that aren´t even there anymore, but never have I heard someone ask how many cant we see yet that we will in the future.  The Universe is a consistently changing, however, it pleases me to know that we are looking at essentially the same night sky as the GREEKS, MYANS, BABALONIANS and ROMANS.  A continuity through Human life that realy reminds us just how little time we have been around on the cosmological scale.

Winter constellations
Orion, Taurus and the infamous Betelgeuse

We humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second.  Say human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.  Imagine that.  I can feel my own mind running away with me now so I leave the whole time debates for another session.  But I hope I have inspired you to take a look up this month at the Night Sky and maybe join us for a view of the Night Skies of Tenerife.

If you have any questions, then please leave a comment or get in touch via email.

Until Next time this Kieran signing off.

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