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