Hello everyone and welcome to some of the best stargazing on the planet. You can still see four of the visible planets in your early evening sky this week.
Just watch one of our beautiful sunsets and when it gets dark, if your sky is clear to the horizon, two fist widths to the left of west, you should see two very bright stars about a fist width apart.
Neither of them is a star. The lower one is Venus and the upper one is Saturn. Then measure four fist widths above Saturn and you will see another bright “star”. That’s Jupiter.
After enjoying the view of these planets, turn completely around and face the east. You will see an old familiar friend, the hunter Orion. The red giant star Betelgeuse is the lower arm of Orion.
Measure two fist widths up from Betelgeus and a fist width to the left and you will be between two other red stars. The one on the right is Aldebaran, the bright red eye of the bull Taurus, and the brighter one on the left is not a star; it’s mars
Since the full moon was last weekend, there won’t be any bright moon in your early evening sky, so let’s go constellation hunting. In particular, we find some that are part of the cycle of Perseus legends. Face north and measure four fist widths up.
On the left you will see the bright “M” of stars that make up Cassiopeia the Queen. A fist width above it you can make out a faint oblong triangle of stars, the left point being the upper right star of the flying horse Pegasus. This is the constellation Andromeda The Chained Lady.
Now go back to Cassiopeia and use the left triangle “M” as a pointer. A fist’s width away and slightly to the left, you can see a blurry spot of light that looks like an out-of-focus star. He’s not a star. That nebulous spot is the Andromeda Galaxy.
It is our nearest large galactic neighbor in space and is larger than the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. The Andromeda Galaxy contains over 250 billion stars. The fact that it looks so small should tell you that it is very far away.
The Andromeda Galaxy is the most distant thing you can see without binoculars or binoculars. It’s two million light years away! So go look at some really old light.
The light you see tonight left the Andromeda Galaxy two million years ago. If you have binoculars, look at it through it. You will see that the galaxy is actually wider than the full moon.
Almost directly overhead in the early evening sky in mid-January on Guam is the last constellation in Perseus’ legendary cycle, Cetus the Whale. To find Cetus (also called Cetus the Sea Monster), turn due south and look straight up. Cetus is a large constellation, as befits a whale or sea monster, and extends 40 degrees down to the southern horizon.
Sometime this week, stand due south and measure a fist and a half width straight down from straight up. While you might not see a star there now, you might in February.
It is Mira, one of the most famous variable stars. At its brightest it is as bright as the brightest stars on Cetus, but at its faintest it is not visible at all without binoculars or binoculars. Mira is a long-term variable that brightens and fades throughout the year.
Let’s see if you can find Mira tonight. If you can’t, try again next month.
Pam Eastlick has been the coordinator of the former University of Guam Planetarium since the early 1990s. She has been writing this weekly astronomy column since 2003. Send any questions or comments to [email protected] and we’ll pass them on to her.