Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
Dark sky.

Welcome to Ontario Parks’ “Eyes in 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 incredibly beautiful nights, filled 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 January astronomical highlights:

Sun

Many people believe that on the winter solstice (usually around December 21) we experience the earliest sunset and latest sunrise.

However, while the winter solstice marks the Sun’s lowest point in the sky at solar noon, and marks the day with the least amount of light, the earliest sunset always occurs at the beginning of the month. Likewise, the latest sunrise usually occurs in early January).

This year, for viewers at 45 degrees north, the latest sunrise occurs on January 3, when the sun will rise around 7:51 am. Almost on the same day and purely coincidentally, the Earth will be closer to the sun the next day. —January 4.

Also keep in mind that our temperatures have a lot to do with the amount of direct light that falls on us rather than our distance from the sun; see our discussion on Equinox for more information.

Sunrise and sunset times:

January 1st January 15 January 30th
Sunrise 8:07 a.m. 8:04 a.m. 7:49 a.m.
One 12:29 p.m. 12:35 p.m. 12:39 p.m.
Sunset 16:51 5:07 p.m. 17:29

Moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. The lunar phases of the January moon occur as follows:

Moon's calendar

The planets

The outer planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are still visible in the night sky although, by the end of the month, Saturn is very close to the western horizon at dusk.

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Venus, the brightest planet in the sky, makes a beautiful spring appearance this year. And for starters, it becomes visible at low altitude in the southwest just after sunset.

planet diagramVenus and Saturn as seen on the night of January 23, 2023. The white dashed line is a representation of the approximate size of the Moon in comparison. Image: SkySafari Pro Version 6.0

On the night of January 23, it joins Saturn on the 23rd, being less than a moon diameter away! The view will be incredible with binoculars, a telephoto lens and/or a telescope!

meteor showers

meteor shower

One of the best but lesser known meteor showers is the Quadrantid meteor shower. However, most people have never seen this rain due to the prevalence of cloudy skies.

This year the Quadrantids (peaking on January 3) will be swept away by the light of a nearly full moon.

Later in January, viewers may be lucky to see sporadic meteors, those that are not associated with any particular shower.

For more information on meteors, see our post on Summer Meteors.

Featured constellations: Orion, Taurus and Canis Major

For thousands of years, humans have looked 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, many different cultures created connect-the-dot figure patterns. Today we recognize 88 official patterns or “constellations” of stars.

dark sky

In this post we will explore 3 of those constellations: Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull, and Canis Major the Big Dog.

Orion is the great and boastful hunter of Greek mythology.

Most people recognize the straight line of three stars that make up Orion’s Belt.

The middle star of Orion’s belt (Alnilam) appears to have the same brightness as the other two stars in the belt. However, in reality, it is twice as far away as the leftmost belt star, Alnitak, and Betelgeuse, the red star marking one of Orion’s shoulders.

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Beneath Orion’s belt is his sword. The middle object inside the sword is a hazy, fuzzy object that, when magnified, appears as a cloud of glowing gas (easy to see with binoculars from the skies over provincial parks).

The Orion constellation

Orion is accompanied by his hunting dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) and is fighting the Taurus Bull.

To find Canis Major, follow Orion’s belt toward Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. A collection of medium-bright stars flowing downward and to the left mark the large dog’s body.

If you follow the star belt to the upper right, you will find the reddish star Aldebaran which, with a cluster of faint stars, forms a “V”. The “V” represents the face of the bull (Aldebaran is the eye), and there are two stars above the face forming the horns of Taurus.

Towards the back of Taurus, you can find a star cluster known as the Pleiades. This group, also known as the “Seven Sisters”, is not a formal constellation. However, it is often confused with the small saucepan.

Did you know…

The calendar has astronomical origins.

While constellations were created largely to help people remember important star patterns, they have many other uses. One of them is for the formation of the calendar.

stars

For example, the ancient Egyptians were searching for the star Sopdet, known today in Canada as Sirius. They knew that each year, when they saw the rise of Sopdet, the annual floods of the Nile would soon come upon them.

Click here to learn more about how the calendar came to be.

This completes January’s ode to the night skies.

Check back each month as we highlight celestial events throughout the seasons, or click here to read more about astronomy in provincial parks.