It’s been a cloudy and stormy last few weeks here in Chicago. Aside from the cold temperatures, winter is the best time for watching the night sky in the city. The nights are long and there are many bright objects in the sky. Here is a preview of what I will be looking for in the next few weeks.
Eight of the fifteen brightest stars in the night sky (as visible in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere) are easily visible in the evening sky during the winter. Orion, one of the most recognizable constellations of them all, is prominent throughout the winter and easily seen in the city because of all its bright stars. Look in the southeast, and you will see his belt of three stars boxed in by four other bright stars. Blue-white Rigel is the star to the lower right of the belt, and orange Betelgeuse is the star to the upper left of the belt. They are the fifth and seventh brightest stars in the night sky, respectively.
Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, rises at about 6:00 pm tonight and should start to clear the buildings by about 7:00 pm. Orion’s stars are bright, but you can see how much brighter Sirius is easily. Follow the stars of Orion’s belt down toward the horizon and you will see Sirius there. Sirius is the brightest star in Canis Major (the great dog), and this dog has a companion.
The Log now lists the fifteen brightest stars visible in Chicago.
Procyon is the bright star to the left and slightly above Sirius (closer to true east). It is the sixth brightest star in the night sky and is the brightest star of Canis Minor (the lesser dog).
The planet Venus, once known as the evening and morning star, is making one of its regular appearances in the night sky. Only the Moon and the Sun are brighter than Venus, so you can spot it pretty easily in the west in the evening twilight. Right now it will start to disappear behind buildings by around 7:00 pm, but that time will be pushed back later and later as the weeks progress.
The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, is still very prominent. Look high in the southwest as night falls.
It’s cold out there, but it doesn’t take much time to look at these bright objects in the night sky. I’ll have more in the days and weeks to come about the wonders of the winter sky.