You’ll need a very dark sky to see the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn in the sky on these cold winter nights. And you’ll have to stay up late tonight (January 21) or wake up early tomorrow (January 22) to see the moon and Mars in front of the constellation Virgo.
First, let’s find the Unicorn, which comes out at nightfall. Focus in on the bright stars Betelgeuse, Sirius and Procyon. They make a triangle, which is sometimes called the Winter Triangle. Within this triangle of stars, hidden in between the many bright and glittering stars and constellations visible at this time of year, there’s a constellation that’s as elusive in our night sky as its namesake is in countless fairy tales.
This is the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. You will need a very dark sky to see it.
Sky chart of the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn
Like all of the night sky, the region of the heavens around Monoceros holds interest. The winter Milky Way runs through here, so it’s a good place to scan with binoculars.
With binoculars, you can see star clusters here. Those with dark skies might try drawing an imaginary line from the star Sirius to Procyon. About a third of the way along this line, you’ll find a hazy object – an open star cluster – called M50. This object needs a telescope to show it clearly. But it’s wonderful to contemplate this cluster of stars on a winter night. There are really about 100 stars in the little patch we know as M50. The main part of the cluster is about 10 light-years across. The entire cluster is located some 3,000 light-years from us. (M50 image from The Munich Astro Archive)
So treat yourself to a visit with a mythical beast – Monoceros the Unicorn – in the winter sky. See it now, before the bright waning gibbous moon takes the darkness out of the evening night sky! But if you’re up late – at or after midnight on the night of January 21/22 – let the moon be your guide to the red planet Mars! After the moon and Mars rise in the east, they’ll be out for rest of the night. Click here to know when the moon and Mars rise in your sky.