Kauai’s night sky and what’s ahead

  • Image courtesy NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

    A color-composite image of the Pleiades is from the Digitized Sky Survey.

Your local Kauai astronomy enthusiasts are here again to tell you about another exciting month of stargazing! Since you are lucky enough to live in one of the least light polluted places on the planet, all you need to do is walk outside, step away from any lights, and look up! Or come check out a monthly KEASA starwatch.

For the month of January, you can still find Mars overhead in the evening towards the west, appearing as a reddish bright star. The best planetary show will be in the morning though, as Jupiter and Venus do a dance.

Get up before sunrise and you’ll see Jupiter getting higher each morning and Venus getting lower, each appearing as very bright stars above the eastern horizon. The two will come within five full moon widths of each other on the morning of Jan. 22!

The highlight of the month is a total lunar eclipse on Jan. 20. When the sun sets, the eclipse will already be underway! Look for a rising moon in the east already completely covered by Earth’s shadow.

When it gets dark enough, you will see the moon with an eerie dark red glow, which is from sunlight that passes through Earth’s atmosphere and is bent towards its shadow, with all but the red light filtered out.

At 7:43 p.m., the umbra, or darkest part of Earth’s shadow, will begin to move away and reveal the penumbra, or lighter part of Earth’s shadow, and finally the moon at its full brightness. The umbra will pass completely at 8:50 p.m. and the whole thing will be over at 9:48 p.m.

Elsewhere in the evening night sky, the constellation Taurus will dominate overhead throughout January. Taurus contains the Pleiades, which appears as a tight cluster of six or seven bright stars in roughly a dipper shape. This cluster is significant to many cultures throughout time, including Hawaiians.

The Hawaiian name is Makalii, and when it first rises above the eastern horizon each November, this marks the beginning of the Makahiki season and a new Hawaiian year! Check out the Pleiades through binoculars or a small telescope to take in its full glory.

Adjacent to Taurus is the constellation Orion, the Hunter, with its prominent stars Betelgeuse, a red giant, making up one of his shoulders and Rigel one of his feet.

In the middle, you can’t miss the three bright stars aligned to make his belt, and three more “stars” aligned below that to make his sword. The middle star of the sword is not really a single star, but an enormous nebula illuminated by the massive new stars forming within it! Through a telescope it is a truly grand sight that will surely leave an impression.

KEASA will be hosting its monthly public Starwatch at the Kauamakani Neighborhood Center softball field on Saturday. Come join us at sunset and bring a light jacket and a comfortable chair or blanket. Our astronomers will show you these objects and much more through our telescopes.

If the weather is in doubt, call 346-5796 to verify the event is still on. Aloha, and clear skies everyone!

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David Bickham is vice president of KEASA, the Kauai Educational Association for Science and Astronomy.

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