Apart from the Moon, the brightest lights in the night sky this January are the planets Jupiter, blazing away in the south once the sky is dark. Our Dark Skies Advisor, Steve Tonkin, guides you through the January skies.
If you have binoculars that magnify by 8x or more, take a look at Jupiter: you may be able to spot some of its brightest four moons.
Just to the left of Jupiter is what starts off looking like a misty patch, but which reveals itself to be a small cluster of stars. This is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. Again, try looking at it with binoculars: you’ll see that there are a lot more than seven of them! Between Jupiter and the Pleiades is a more elusive planet, Uranus.
On the 19th of January it will be quite easy to find, but you will need binoculars. Start off at the Moon, and go five Moon-diameters down where you will find a ‘star’ brighter than the others in the vicinity; this is Uranus, which wasn’t discovered until 1781.
Due south at about 9pm you’ll see the distinctive constellation of Orion, the mighty Hunter of Greek mythology. If you follow the three stars of its belt down to the left, they lead to the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. When it is low down on a clear night, it not only twinkles, but can appear to flash different colours. This is the effect of a turbulent atmosphere, behaving like a prism and dispersing its colours into a spectrum.
There are two other things to look for in Orion if you use binoculars. The first is his Belt, a line of three stars. Binoculars reveal that this is a huge cluster of stars; on a dark night you should be able to see more than a hundred of them. Just below the Belt, there is a vertical row of another three, fainter stars. Binoculars will again show that there are more than three, but also that the middle ‘star’ isn’t a star at all, but a glowing ball of gas. This is the Orion Nebula; you are looking at a place where stars are formed; a ‘stellar nursery’, if you will.