Back-to-school time means students are wrapping their heads around learning again — sometimes a painful process. Check out the night sky during the new and waxing moons and exercise your brain by spotting some celestial objects that shine best in the darkest skies.
Jan. 9 is the month’s only new moon, so cross your fingers for good weather and head away from city lights for your best chance to view the band of the Milky Way. The outer arm of our solar system’s spiral galaxy home is visible as a diffuse, a bright smear stretching from east to west across the top of the sky. When you view it, you’re looking at the edge of the galaxy, past which the nearest neighbor is the Andromeda galaxy — 2.5 million light years away.
Practice spotting Capella, the brightest star in our skies that is the same type of star as our own Sun, a yellow dwarf. It’s actually two yellow stars, visible as one presence to our eyes. Find Capella and its host constellation, Auriga, by looking due east at 9 p.m. on the days around Jan. 12 and following a line straight upwards until you are looking almost straight up — find a noticeably bright star near the top of the sky. Capella is a circumpolar star at Saskatoon’s latitude, meaning that it never sets below the horizon.
If you haven’t broken your late-night winter break habits yet, look due east at 11:00 p.m. on Jan. 16 or 17 to watch Jupiter rise. It will be easily distinguishable, and the brightest element in the sky at that time. Jupiter will curve west through the sky as the night goes on, reaching it’s highest point in the south at around 5 a.m. The planet will continue to rise earlier in the evening as the month continues.