Frontenac winter stars

Eyes on the skies – January

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 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:

The sun

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.

Earth is closest to the sun on January 5, 2020. Coincidentally (and not related to the Earth’s distance from the sun), the latest sunrise visible from Ontario occurs on January 5 as well (not on December 21, as many believe), so we can look forward to more light when we get up in the morning.

January 1 January 15 January 30
Sunrise 8:08 a.m. 8:04 a.m. 7:50 a.m.
Midday 12:29 p.m. 12:35 p.m. 12:39 p.m.
Sunset 4:51 p.m. 5:06 p.m. 5:29 p.m.

The moon and the planets

In January, we will see Venus move further away from the Sun and brighten considerably.

two side vby side images of Venus
January 1, 2020 (left), January 31, 2020 (right). Sky chart images courtesy of SkySafari 5 Pro

This brightening is occurring because Venus is getting closer to the Earth and reflects more light towards us as it grows in size.

January’s lunar phases are as follows:

Jan 2020 lunar phases

Stars

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 and some of its neighbours, click here.

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.

Stars

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.