guide to the night sky for mid northern latitudes

(Note: The names of the constellations are given in bold and the names in italics are the names of heavenly bodies in Indian astronomy. For better understanding take a print out of the map.)
The Sky Map ::: Solar System Object

The Great Square of Pegasus, the Flying Horse or the Winged Horse (Maha Ashwa) is now just above the western horizon. The two leading stars of Pegasus make the 25th nakshatra, Purva Bhadrapada and the other two make the 26th nakshatra, Uttar Bhadrapada.

To the southwest, but well above the horizon is Cetus, the Whale. Check out the star marked Mira. Now you may not be able to identify it with naked eyes because it is too faint. But two months ago it had brightened up and was visible to the naked eyes. It is a long period variable star.

Right overhead, but slightly to the west are Aries, the Ram (Mesh) and Triangulum, the Triangle. The brighter of the two in Aries is Hamal. This star is about 75 light years from us. Together with the fainter one, Sheratan, Hamal forms our first nakshatra Ashwini.

Moving further down towards the horizon you can see Andromeda (Devayani). This constellation houses one the nearest galaxies to our own Milkyway galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy. It is marked as M31 on the map. This galaxy can be spotted easily in using a pair of binocular if you live in a light polluted city. But if you are in outskirts were the skies are dark you need no optical aid to look at this object.

Look bit to right and below and you should be able to spot Cassiopeia (Sharmishtha). This constellation has a beautiful double cluster of stars called h&c.

We again turn our attention back to the sky overhead where we have Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, the Bull (Vrishabha). It is our 3rd Nakshatra Krittika.

Now face east and once again look right overhead. Can you spot a cluster of stars in 'V' shape? It is Hyades cluster with a bright red star at one tip of the 'V'. This star is Aldebaran (Rohini).
Further down and to north and south you can identify Auriga, the Charioteer and Orion, the Hunter. We talked about Orion last month.
Let us move further down towards the eastern horizon.

Here we have Gemini, the Twins (Mithuna). You will notice that I have marked a parallelogram by dashed lines. We call this grouping 'Gateway of Heavens'. Path of the sun lies halfway between two stars of Gemini and Canis Minor. The stars are Castor, Pollux, Procyon and Gomaisa. We see that all the planets and the Moon cross through this parallelogram.

Let us now turn our attention to south. You can see a very bright star Sirius (Vyadh), shining brilliantly. It is the brightest star visible from Earth after the sun has set, for sun is also a star. This star belongs to Canis Major constellation.

In the southeast you can see two constellations Carina, the Keel and Puppis, the Vail are rising above the horizon. Canopus (Agastya) is the second brightest stars in the sky.
Let us now turn our attention to those objects marked by 'M' on the map.

M42 is a huge cloud of gas where star birth is taking place. This object, also called the Great Orion Nebula, looks beautiful in telescope of any size. Object M35, M41, M44 and M67 are all clusters of stars. These objects can be seen using a pair of binoculars. Under the clear skies M35 and M44 are visible to the naked eyes. M44 is Pushya Nakshatra.
Having made yourself familiar with the patterns on the sky now look for Algol in Perseus. Brightness of this star changes very periodically. Every two days or so the starlight fades almost by half in just about five hours. Then in next five hours it regains its original brightness and then remains so for then two days and 20 hours. Monitor this star on January 5th soon after it gets dark. On this night at 10:24 p.m. the star will reach its minimum brightness phase. If you miss this date then look for it on 8th as soon as it gets dark. You will find it difficult to locate it, as the star would have become quite faint. But if you continue to look for it you will find that it is becoming brighter. It reaches its lowest brightness level at 7:13 p.m. You can then look for it's fading on 28th of January. It reaches its minimum brightness phase at 8:58 p.m.

Before we end this month's observations let also pay attention to three constellations about to make their appearance in the sky.

Ursa Major, the Big Bear (Saptarishis) is half above the northeastern horizon. This the prime constellation used for finding north in the night.

And then we have Leo, the Lion (Simha) and Hydra, the Water Snake, rising above the eastern horizon. Regulus (Magha) is one of the Royal stars. Alpharad in Hydra means the lonely one a very appropriate name for it for in this direction of the sky there are no other brighter stars.


The material here can be used freely.
It is, however, expected that the source may be acknowledged.
 Credit : Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune.)

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Page created June, 2007 and Updated  Sep, 2007