Tour January’s Sky: The Pleiades

Our monthly podcast offers the key highlights for stargazing in January: where to find bright stars and planets — and a special look at the Pleiades star cluster

Early in January, look low in the west about 30 minutes after sunset. You’ll easily spot brilliant Venus, but look carefully below Venus for much dimmer Mercury. These two are a few degrees apart as the year begins but close to within 1° of each other by January 10th.

Once it's dark, face due east and look for the distinctive vertical row of three stars that mark Orion's Belt. To their left is the red-tinged supergiant star Betelgeuse, and to their right is icy white Rigel. Follow the Belt upward, and you’ll encounter a reddish star called Aldebaran, the angry eye of Taurus, the Bull. Aldebaran also serves as the anchor for a loose V-shaped cluster of stars called the Hyades.

Pleiades Cluster (Seven Sisters)

The Pleiades star cluster is located in Taurus and dominated by hot blue stars that formed within the past 100 million years.
Bob King

Now look higher still, until you spot a little fuzzy spot that you can just cover with the tip of a finger. This is also a star cluster, called the Pleiades. It's very distinctive, recognized by many cultures past and present. For example, the Japanese know this cluster as Subaru.

By about 8 p.m., Orion has risen well up in the east, and beneath him are two bright stars. On the right is Sirius, the brightest star in the night time sky, and on the left is Procyon. These mark the Hunter’s two dogs. Farther to their left, you can’t miss brilliant Jupiter.

Want more tips on getting familiar with the stars and planets of January? Then download our 8-minute-long stargazing podcast below.

There's no better guide to what's going on in nighttime sky than the January issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.