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Orion the Hunter easy to spot in January night sky

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Tonight for January 8, 2015

Also, look for the moon below the planet Jupiter and near the star Regulus on January 8.

Also, look for the moon near the planet Jupiter and star Regulus on January 8.

Tonight – or any January evening – look for the constellation Orion the Hunter. It’s probably the easiest to pick out of all the constellations in the winter sky. It’s identifiable by Orion’s Belt, three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row at the mid-section of the Hunter. See these stars? They are easy to spot on the sky’s dome. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, you’ll find Orion in the southeast at early evening and shining high in the south by late evening (around 10 to 11 p.m. local time). If you live at temperate latitudes to the south of the equator, you’ll see Orion high in your northern sky at this hour. Pick out Orion’s Belt and the nearby bright stars in that part of the sky, and you’ve probably found Orion.

Amazing bonus! There’s a bright comet in the sky near Orion in January, 2015. It’s barely visible to the eye, but you can find it, if you look, especially if you find the constellation Orion first and then star-hop from there. Comet Lovejoy was closest to Earth on January 7. It’s probably now at its brightest in our sky. Read more about Comet Lovejoy, and see more photos, here.

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Live by the moon with your 2015 EarthSky lunar calendar!

View larger. |  Comet Lovejoy on January 5, 2015.  The scene shows the constellation Orion rising, with Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) at upper right as the fuzzy green spot, in a moonlit sky over the formations of the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. The moon, a day past full, had risen and was behind the rocks lighting the sky and tops of the formations. Scattered moonlight illuminated the scene. Alan Dyer, who took this photo, said,

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy on January 5, 2015. The scene shows the constellation Orion rising, with Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) at upper right as the fuzzy green spot, in a moonlit sky over the formations of the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. Alan Dyer, who took this photo, said, “The comet was obvious in binoculars and a very careful look revealed it as barely visible to the naked eye, even in the moonlight. But you had to know just where to look! The photo shows just a hint of a tail. Once the moon gets out of the way this could be a very nice dark sky comet.” Read more about Comet Lovejoy.

Can’t find the comet? There’s plenty to see in Orion, too, and it’s easy to find.

Stars in distinct constellations like Orion look connected, perhaps even gravitationally bound, but usually they aren’t. Certainly Orion’s stars aren’t bound to each other by anything but their general location near one another along a single line of sight from Earth. The stars of Orion just happen to make an easy visual pattern on our sky’s dome.

Meanwhile, the stars in Orion and most other constellations are located at vastly different distances from each other. For example, notice the two brightest stars in Orion, Betelgeuse and Rigel. Betelgeuse is estimated to be located 522 light-years away, while Rigel’s distance is 773 light-years.

On the other hand, those prominent stars in Orion’s Belt are somewhat related. They are all giant stars in a nearby spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. These stars’ names are Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak.

Bottom line: At this time of year, the constellation Orion the Hunter takes center stage in the star-studded sky! In 2015, there’s a comet in the sky near Orion – Comet Lovejoy. Learn more about this constellation – and find a link that’ll help you see the comet – here.

Why do stars seem brighter in winter?