The most notable winter constellation is Orion. It is visible in the evening skies between January and April. In February it is visible in the early evening in the southeast and will travel across the sky towards the west through the night. As we move towards April the constellation will start becoming visible further westward at the beginning of the evening until visibility of the constellation will be lost by early May.
In Greek mythology, Orion, to whom the constellation owes its name, was a giant hunter born to Euryale the gorgon, the sister of Medusa, and Poseidon the god of the sea. In Greek texts, Orion was killed by a scorpion, represented by the constellation Scorpius, which never appears in the night sky at the same time as Orion.
Notable features of the Orion constellation include Orion’s Belt consisting of three relatively bright stars in a straight line. Betelguese, the 10th brightest star in the night sky and Orion’s shoulder, is a star with a noticeable reddish tint, Betelgeuse is approaching the end of its life and is expected to meet its end in a large explosion known as a supernova within the next 100,000 years. Betelguese is positioned straight upwards perpendicular to the belt of Orion. Another notable star in the constellation is Rigel, which is the 7th brightest star in the night sky and is located at Orion’s foot. A noticeable feature in the constellation Orion is the Great Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42, which is one of the most impressive nebulae in the northern hemisphere and can be viewed in relatively dark skies using binoculars. The nebula is positioned hanging down from Orion’s belt in what is known as Orion’s sword.
The Orion Nebula (Messier 42), image taken by Jean Dean
The lower section of the Orion Constellation which shows the location of the Orion’s Belt and the Orion Nebula, image taken by Jean Dean.
The Pleiades, commonly known as the Seven Sisters or Messier 45 is a prominent star cluster visible in the night sky, in the constellation Taurus. In Greek mythology the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione; they were pursued by Orion, a reference to how the constellation Orion follows the star cluster across the night sky. The star cluster is visible to the naked eye, however through a pair of binoculars the view of the star cluster can be further enhanced, revealing many dimmer stars. The star cluster will be visible at the same times and dates as Orion.
The Pleiades Star Cluster (Messier 45), image taken by Jean Dean
Some other visible objects in the night sky over the next few months that may be good to look out for include:
The planet Jupiter is visible just after sunset for January into early February to the southwest. While the planet Venus is visible in the morning sky at dawn from now until August, appearing next to the planet Mars until April. Mercury will be visible in the morning until mid-March, although it is a tougher target to spot. The planet Uranus will also be visible until April during the night, although due to its very high difficulty to spot with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope would be advised. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky will be visible over the next few months. The Hyades star cluster is another interesting cluster positioned close to the Pleiades. And the Andromeda Galaxy, although a telescope or binoculars are advised for this target.
A planetarium app such as SkySafari or Stellarium, on a mobile phone or tablet, may help locate the objects that have been mentioned in this article.
More information on what is visible in the night sky month-by-month may be found here:
Written by Anthony Nel, Member of La Société Guernesiaise Astronomy Section
The morning planets 18th February 2022 at 7 am. Chart generated by SkySafari.
Chart of the night sky on the 18th of February 2022 at 7 pm.