Science: All I want for Christmas is a telescope

Given clear nights, January will provide an impressive planetary line-up, the glorious constellation Orion, and a shower of meteors.

If Santa has delivered a small telescope in your stocking, take it out soon after sunset and check out these worlds. Seeing out the old year and bringing in the new is the glorious "Evening Star": the brilliant planet Venus that hangs like a tiny lantern in the southwestern sky after sunset. It's at the lower end of a planetary line-up. To Venus's upper left is the second-brightest planet, Jupiter. Between them you may spot Mars, currently 100 times fainter than Venus. To the left of Jupiter is dull, yellowish Saturn, the only planet up late enough to show on our star charts, which are timed for 10pm.

Under magnification, Venus shows as a thin sliver of light, like a narrow crescent moon. Mars is so far away at present that you'll see nothing but an ochre-coloured "star". Jupiter is a much better target, with bands of clouds and four moons, changing position from night to night. And the telescope should reveal the beautiful rings that girdle Saturn.

Over to the east, the bright "winter constellations" are now rising. Chief of them is Orion, the mighty hunter, shaped like a human figure with brilliant stars marking his shoulder (Betelgeuse) and knee (Rigel). To his upper right is Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus (the bull), and farther up in the same direction the sparkling little cluster of stars known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters - another delight to view through a small telescope or binoculars.

To Orion's lower left is Sirius, the brightest of all the stars. As the leading light of Canis Major (the great dog). It's sometimes called the Dog Star. Above Sirius is a second "dog star", Procyon in the constellation of Canis Minor (the little dog). And above Procyon, look out for Gemini's "twin" stars, Castor and Pollux.

While these stars will remain much the same throughout the month, there's more action happening nearer home. On the night of 3 January, the earth runs through a swarm of celestial debris, which burns up in our atmosphere as a shower of meteors or shooting stars. They seem to spread out from a point near the tail of the Great Bear (Ursa Major), where astronomers once grouped some faint stars into a constellation known as Quadrans. This star-pattern is no longer used, but the meteor shower is still known as the Quadrantids.

In the evening sky, faint Mars is zooming rapidly to the left, and passes by Jupiter on 21 January. Even more dramatically, Venus is plunging down towards the Sun. It disappears from the evening sky by the end of the first week of January. Swinging between the Sun and Earth ("inferior conjunction"), Venus reappears by the end of the month as the Morning Star, rising before the Sun in the south east. For the rest of 1998 it will be visible only in the morning sky.

Diary for January (all times GMT 24-hour clock)

3 maximum Quadrantid meteor shower

4 earth at perihelion (closest to sun)

5 1419 moon at first quarter

6 Mercury at greatest western elongation

12 1724 full moon

16 Venus at inferior conjunction

20 1941 moon at last quarter

28 0601 new Moon

New Year, new location

This is the last Science page of 1997. It will return in 1998 - bigger, more colourful and as informative as ever - but in the broadsheet section of the paper from Monday 5 January. We hope you'll seek us out. Meanwhile, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our readers.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions