Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This “space” will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.
The cold, crisp days of the New Year often reward us with fantastically beautiful nights, rich with bright stars and interesting sights.
Of the 17 brightest stars seen from Ontario, nine of them are visible during winter nights and many interesting objects await the observer who is prepared to brave the cold.
Here are our astronomical highlights for January:
Earth does not follow a circular path in its orbit around the Sun. Its path is actually an ellipse (shape of an egg).
As a result of this non-circular orbit, the earth is actually closest to the sun at the beginning of January and gradually moves further away throughout the rest of the year. So being closer or further from the sun has little to do with our summer and winter.
The earth is closest to the sun on January 3, 2018.
|January 1||January 15||January 30|
The Moon reaches perigee (the point at which it is closest to the Earth) during full moon. This produces what is popularly known as a “Supermoon.”
But don’t be fooled. While a “supermoon” sounds like something spectacular, most people cannot visually distinguish between a supermoon and a regular full moon. Nevertheless, any full moon is an impressive sight.
January’s Lunar Phases are as follows:
For thousands of years, humans have looked up at the stars. The stars helped them try to understand their purpose, and the role they play in our lives.
To help memorize the different stars, patterns of connect-the-dot figures were created by many different cultures. Today, we recognize 88 official patterns or “constellations” of stars.
To learn more about the constellation Orion, click here.
Planets and stars that wander are fun to find. It’s beautiful to observe their slow motion against the backdrop of fixed stars over many nights.
In January, three of the brightest planets are visible.
At sunset, Venus, the brightest planet in the sky, can be seen low in the southwest. If you’re watching the dark skies of a more remote park, Venus’ intense brightness may actually be seen to cast a shadow.
Towards the upper left from Venus is the reddish Mars, which remains in the low southwest for much of the month.
Finally, in the late night / early morning hours, you can see the planet Jupiter as a bright star-like object that is brighter than almost all the other stars except for Sirius (in Canis Major).
Through binoculars, Jupiter’s four brightest moons, the Galilean satellites, can be seen. Through a telescope, such as the one found in Killarney Provincial Park, you can see much more detail of Jupiter’s cloud belts.
Mars and Jupiter line up in what is known as a conjunction on the morning of January 7. Look low in the southeast to see the bright Jupiter just a little higher and to the right of the reddish Mars.
Mars is on the opposite side of the sun from us and is about as far away as it can get – about 285 million kilometres. Jupiter is (significantly) farther still.
This year, the Quandrantid Meteor Shower peaks on January 3 and 4.
A clear dark sky, warm clothes, sleeping bag, chaise lounge and hot drinks are essential for braving the winter cold to watch as many as 60 meteors per hour.
Just lay back and look straight up. You know you’re dressed warmly enough if you doze off.
Did you know…
The calendar has astronomical origins.
While the the constellations were, largely, created to help people remember significant star patterns, they have plenty of other uses. One of these is for the formation of the calendar.
For example, the ancient Egyptians watched out for the star Sopdet, which is known as Sirius in Canada today. They knew that each year, when they would spot Sopdet rising, the annual Nile floods would soon be upon them.
Click here to learn more about how the calendar came to be.
That completes January’s ode to the night skies
Check back each month as we highlight celestial events through the seasons, or click here to read more about astronomy in provincial parks.