Tour January’s Sky: Spot Two Star Clusters

Download our monthly astronomy podcast to spot Venus and Mars in the west — and two star clusters high up — after sunset.

Get the new year started with a resolution to do more stargazing in 2017!

Venus, Mars, and the Moon in January 2017

Thanks to fortuitous timing of lunar phases, a lovely waxing crescent Moon joins Venus and Mars in the west after sunset at both the beginning and the end of January 2017.
Sky & Telescope diagram

Venus and much dimmer Mars adorn the western sky after sunset. As the month opens, and ends, they're joined by a lovely waxing crescent Moon.

Turn around to see Orion leaping up from the eastern horizon as it gets dark. Look for the Hunter’s distinctive belt of three stars, oriented as a vertical row as the constellation climbs into the sky. The belt is flanked by ruddy Betelgeuse to its left and icy-white Rigel to its right.

Higher up are Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the Bull. It's the anchor for a V-shaped cluster of stars called the Hyades, and with clear dark skies you might pick out a dozen or so in this loose open cluster. (Curiously, Aldebaran itself is not part of the Hyades; it's just a bright foreground star.)

Look higher up for a second, tighter grouping, the Pleiades star cluster. This grouping is very distinctive, and it’s recognized by many cultures past and present. In ancient Greece these stars were known as the Seven Sisters, all daughters of Atlas and his wife Pleione. How the girls ended up together in the sky varies from tale to tale.

To learn about some of those stories, and to get more skywatching tips for January, listen to or download our monthly astronomy podcast below.

One thought on “Tour January’s Sky: Spot Two Star Clusters

  1. Graham-Wolf

    Thanks for your excellent report, Kelly.

    M45/Pleiades has always been a longstanding visual and photographic favourite, even way down here in NZ. It’s also a classic test for visual acuity… “counting the Pleiades” is even taught to youngsters and beginners. Sure, the constellation orientates up-side down, and back to front for us Kiwis (compared to the USA/UK), but still no problem. And for the misty eyed… who can ever forget that famous British poetry passage idyllically referring to the cluster, itself… by Alfred Lord Tennyson, I understand.
    Regards from 46 South, NZ. Graham W. Wolf

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