BINOCULAR HIGHLIGHTS


Cygnus the Swan (also known as the Northern Cross) does a nosedive to the WNW horizon about an hour after sunset in mid January. Vega is the brightest star in this region, but it's close to the horizon so those with an obstructed view may not see it. Deneb, however, is high in the sky and an easy target. Even though it's dimmer than Vega, it is by far the intrinsically brightest star in this part of the sky. It is a blue-white supergiant star about 20 times more massive than the Sun and 196,000 times more luminous! Vega, on the other hand, is only 2 times the mass of our Sun and 40 times its luminosity. The big difference here is Vega is "close by" only 25 light years away while Deneb is around 2,600 light years distant...a factor of more than 100 times farther away than Vega.
The Little Dipper asterism hangs from its handle as if Polaris is a nail holding it in place about an hour after sunset. As the night wears on, the ladle of the Little Dipper will swing up and to the right as the Big Dipper rises and Polaris remains stationary.
The eastern sky steals the show again in January with two of the most prominent constellations in the sky, Gemini and Orion circled here in yellow. Major stars Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Castor, Pollux, and Procyon are printed on this image along with the most spectacular stellar nursery visible from Earth, M 42 The Great Orion Nebula. Also visible as a dim grey smudge just above Castor's foot and near the break in the yellow oval around Gemini is open star cluster M 35, a pleasing sight through binoculars.