Flash addition 31 January: the blood moon eclipse dimmed the nearly full moon so the stars and planets all came bright….
If you get up early say 0300 and the sky is clear and you look toward the south and east there is a pageant in the sky that you may not be able to forget. Rising in the southeast and curving toward the south as it rises further is Jupiter, the brightest of the night, the king of the gods to some cultures, and, if you have binoculars, some of the attendant moons. Jupiter is so bright that many of the stars nearby can barely be seen. But the four large Galileian moons, named in 1610 and often visible by eye, can be clearly seen because they are large and so much closer. In all Jupiter has 53 named moons and an amazing 69 total.
Just above it is Zubenelgenubi, the Arabic name for the brightest star in what we call the constellation Libra. Below Jupiter is reddish Mars, in the head of Scorpius closely followed by red Antares and the Hawaiian fishhook tail with the two stars of the stinger at the end.
High above all, is bright Spica and a little to the right nearly due south, is Corvus, the Crow, Alala flying to the west. And directly underneath it, Crux, the Southern Cross, nearly vertical, as far above the horizon as it is tall. To the west the Moon, Canopus, Sirius and Procyon are chasing after Orion diving into the horizon.
If you continue watching for an hour or two more, Jupiter, Mars and Scorpius will continue rising, arcing up and toward the south. Below them will appear Saturn, and then toward dawn, Mercury. These four planets arcing across the sky describe precisely the flat disk of our solar system tilting up above the Milky Way, the bright lumpy disk of our home galaxy seen on edge. And soon after as all these dim rises the sun. All this rarely seen and hard to forget when they are flung across the sky so majestically before us.
In the coming months where as we move around the sun, we get to see the Milky Way continue its clockwise twist until the Teapot, Sagitarius, rises in the southeast and we can see the center of the galaxy directly between the the spout and the stinger on the tail of the Scorpion.