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Discover the night sky

In January

Also find out how
you can be a
citizen scientist

Stargazing

... What's in the sky at a glance

In January we have Dogs, Cats, we look at our Closest Neigbours and learn how to Gastronomy. This time of the year, looking north we are gazing towards the edge of the galaxy. Janus was the Roman deity that gave the name to January.

Table of Contents

Bright stars are in the sky as the edge of our galaxy is in the northern part of the sky.

Do you have a pair of binoculars? Great job! They are the best way to start browsing the night sky, and they will help you familiarise with what you will be looking in a telescope later on. Orion’s sword is the best place to start! The Pleiades are great binocular objects, and so is the Beehive Cluster in Cancer.  Jupiter and Mars are interesting sights and of course the Moon, when is up, is a really great place to see. Sometimes binoculars are tiring to hold up so a great idea is to get a tripod for them and a chair for you. This is the easiest way to start a stargazing journey as an armchair astronomer (we recommend Moonchairs). Anything on the Milky Way will be great to look at, and as you browse along to the south you will see some spectacular sights near the False Cross, Diamond Cross and the Southern Cross.

Deep sky objects are fabulous galaxies and planetary nebulae. Sombrero Galaxy is back in action though you will need to stay up after midnight; Eskimo Nebula, Crab Nebula, M68, Ghost of Jupiter Nebula, M67, the Beehive Cluster, M48, NGC4103, M 42 and M41 are a few of the objects we see at night this time of the year. Sculptor Galaxy is still there, and the Fornax Cluster too. On the circumpolar region, all objects in the False Cross, the Diamond Cross and Southern Cross are visible, and Omega Centauri is coming to view. In addition, 47 Tucanae and Tarantula Nebula are great to look at.

As you learn more about the night sky, why don’t you

Join a Globe at Night survey this month as a citizen scientist

A study conducted by researchers from the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the US National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, dubbed the “Globe at Night” Citizen Science Project, included 50,000 naked eye night sky observations made by volunteers between 2011 and 2022.

It revealed that satellite measurements misreported the amount of existing light pollution: (1) by missing the horizontal light  – such as light from advertising or billboards. (2) because current satellites measuring it are less sensitive to blue light.

Just like the 50,000 citizen scientists participating in the study, you can help for the 2023 round. This is also a great opportunity to know your night sky. 

All you need to do is count the number of stars on your street (or any place you like really) and report it anonymously to Globe at Night.

Also check out

Globe at night

Globe at Night features:

Orion

The measurements taken for the Globe at Night must be done on a moonless night. This is why Globe at Night recommends they are done around the New Moon.

How to plan your stargazing

It might sound silly because everyone knows that stargazing is done at night, but you would be surprised how much planning goes into it.

First, the sky is genuinely dark when the Sun is 12 degrees under the horizon. This is what is called night.

Twilight is the period between sunset and night. During that time, we indirectly see scattered light from the Sun after it sets.

So for a successful stargazing night, you must know your sunset and sunrise times and the phase of the Moon and of course, your targets for the night. 

Is a good idea for any stargazing party to know your sunset /sunrise and moonset/moonrise times. It’s always great to keep informed if anything special will happen while you’re out stargazing – for instance, if certain Planets are in the sky, if there is a meteor shower, a conjunction or even if the International Space Station is passing overhead.

Some people have alerts on their phones about these things and auroras. Most stargazing apps have all of these details and also allow you to make observation lists – which are very handy. 

Some astronomy / space apps we checked and use

SkySafari 7 Pro
A Review of SkySafari 7 Pro

The app we use to navigate around the night sky is SkySafari 7 Pro. Developed by Simulation Curriculum Corp, this app is a great way to learn about stars, planets and deep sky objects.

Read More »

Plan your observing around the Sun

Happy Perihelion! This summer we hope you’ll get some sleep since the Sun is only missing from the sky for a few hours during the night. In 2023, we are heading towards a solar maximum so keep an eye on auroras.

In January, the Sun is at its closest distance to Earth. This is called perihelion because Earth’s orbit around the Sun is an elliptical path.

Perihelion was on January 4th at 16:17 UTC.

Not only that we are closest to the Sun this time of the year, but from the Southern Hemisphere, Earth’s axis leans towards the Sun, hence is summertime.

The Sun rises early in January. To catch the sunrise on the 1st of January, you’d have to wake up around 5:50 AM (more or less a few minutes every year), but by the end of the month, you can sleep almost half an hour more as the Sun rises around 6:24 AM on the 31st of January. It sets very late, around 9 PM at the beginning of the month and about twenty minutes earlier at the end of it.

Also remember to check out the Moon

For stargazing, you must know what phase of the Moon it is. This is because the Moon makes light pollution which washes out most deep sky objects, so what you can see through a telescope when the Moon is in the sky is different than when the Moon is not.

Moon Myth

There is a rabbit on the Moon!

Yes, there is. You can see it clearly from the Southern Hemisphere, where the rabbit lives.
Come stargazing with us in Wairarapa

An overview of the night sky this month

We see the sky’s first, second and third brightest stars from New Zealand. The first two, the Dog Star and the Cat Star are high up in the sky, almost overhead, whereas Alpha Centauri, our closest neighbour and third brightest star, is lower to the south as the handle of the now-famous Frying Pan asterism. Two Royal Stars are also present on the ecliptic – Regulus in Leo and Aldebaran in Taurus. The Magellanic Clouds are in an excellent position to observe, looking like two tiny clouds up high to the south.

The zodiacal constellations are low in the sky on the ecliptic, and Pisces is the first to set after sunset. Jupiter is the bright object in Pisces in January 2023.

Aries, often overlooked as it has only three visible stars, is the next zodiacal constellation.

Taurus – with the famous cluster Pleiades is in a great spot and is delighting the observers throughout the evening; the blue-giant stars glisten like tiny blue diamonds. Use your averted vision to look at them; you should be able to count them better. The cluster has about 1300 stars in its composition. In January 2023, Mars will be in Taurus, and you will see it as a beautiful red object. The Red Planet is in between the Pleiades and Hyades.

The Hyades make the head of the Bull, with the nose pointing up. Aldebaran is a Royal Star that happens to be in the same line of sight as the Hyades but much closer to us – marking the eye of the Bull. Two long horns are hanging from its head, almost to the horizon. The star that marks the eastern horn is Zeta Tauri and is very close to the famous Crab Nebula or M1. As this asterism is probably the oldest Northern Hemisphere people imagined, it dates from when all cows had horns and very long ones.

The celestial Twins are next in line on the zodiacal band as Gemini.

Further east, Cancer the Crab and the beautiful Beehive Cluster are next in line. Cancer, like the Pleiades, is one of these objects where you need to use your averted vision to observe them.

Finally, Leo and its Royal Star Regulus are coming up from the east, but if you stay up all night long, you will also see Virgo and Libra, and finally, in the morning, Scorpius will be up on the horizon just before sunrise.

The Circumpolar Region has the asterism of the Unknown Fish and the Flounder in the Frying Pan dominating the Southern Horizon. This asterism is special; once you see it, you will never unsee it, and it is part of the Gastronomy Series in January, together with the Hot Dog Asterism and The (famous) Pot. The Milky Way links the Pot and the FryingPan with the many beautiful lights from the billions of stars that make our galaxy.

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This time of the year, looking north, we are looking towards the edge of our galaxy, located between Taurus and Gemini.

Perihelion 5:17am we were ripping through the Solar System at 30.29 km per second at a distance of 147,098,925 km from the Sun. That’s the closest we usually get to the Sun during one year and it’s called Perihelion.

January was a recent addition to the Latin calendar, which only had 10 months until King Numa Pompilius instated it around 703 BC. Winter was considered by the Romans a month-less period as there was little work to be done in wintertime about 3000 years ago. So until January was added, the year started with March. 

The name comes from the god Janus, a mythical creature with two faces, looking simultaneously into the past and future, the God of Gates and Time, Births and Passages, and Endings. Wikipedia discusses the etymology of the word stemming from Proto-Italic *iānu (‘door’), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ieh₂nu (‘passage’), related to the Sanskrit yāti (‘to go, travel’), the Lithuanian jóti (‘to go, ride’), or Serbo-Croatian jàhati (‘to go’). (de Vaan, Michiel (2008). Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Brill. ISBN 9789004167971; Taylor, Rabun, “Watching the Skies: Janus, Auspication, and the Shrine in the Roman Forum,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome vol. 45 (2000): p. 1)

A Uranic Deity

Accordingly, Iānus is translated as an action name expressing the idea of going, passing, formed on the root *yā- < *y-eð2– theme II of the root *ey- go from which eō, ειμι. Janus was also the inspiration for all names that bear its resemblance: Jan, Jon, Joanne, Ion, Ioana, Iana, Diana, Iani and so on. Janus was a Uranic deity associated with Uranus, the sky, as it was identified with light and hence the Sun, Moon, time, movement, the year, doorways and bridges. He was a great deity with a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders. 

Janus, the Roman god of gates, doorways, beginnings, and endings, and Bellona, the Roman goddess of war. Sculpture by Johann Wilhelm Beyer, 1773-80 CE, Vienna, Schönbrunn Garden.

The temple of Janus in Rome was open during wartimes and closed when the empire was at peace. The most important god of the Roman pantheon, Janus, was at least as important as Jupiter. That may be why Numa Pompilius called January the first month of the year, as Janus was considered the highest divinity. 

The divine pillars

In ancient Summer, two pillars marked the summer and winter solstice on the eastern part of temples. These symbolised two divine twins, one mortal, represented by the NE pillar, where the Sun did not shine and the other immortal, indicated by the SE pillar, where the Sun always shone. Later on, in Egypt and the Middle East, the two columns morphed into one with two torsos and finally into one body with two heads looking in opposite directions. (Audin, A. (1956). “Dianus bifrons ou les deux stations solaires, piliers jumeaux et portiques solsticiaux”. Revue de géographie de Lyon31 (3): 191–198.) The divine twins are now the constellation of Gemini, which was high in the night sky 3000 years ago in January as seen from Rome and now is on the northeastern horizon at sunset as seen from New Zealand.

Stargaze with us from Wairarapa

If you are in Wairarapa, come stargazing with us.

Wairarapa is now an official Dark Sky Reserve – find out more in our Look after our night sky exhibition here.

We have the best telescope equipment for public viewing on the North Island, with the most extensive range of powerful telescopes for stargazing. And, of course, we have hot chocolate.


Experience astronomy and space in virtual reality VR when the sky is cloudy.

When we are not doing stargazing with the public or with our own telescopes, we turn to SLOOH to explore the Universe. If you are really passionate about astronomy, want to learn more or just expand your knowledge, SLOOH is the next level. See you there, make sure you join the Star Safari club and say hi. 

Learn astronomy online

What is SLOOH?

Patented technology to explore space.  Robotic, mountaintop, online telescopes, live 18+ hours per day.

Curated journey of discovery. Space is a vast wilderness and Slooh is like a national park, with trails and guides. 

Communal exploration of the Universe. Learn from fellow members using the telescopes.

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