What's in the night sky of the week of 26 December 2022 to 1 January 2023 in our weekly stargazing guide.


Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting skyatnightmagazine.com or digital edition by visiting on iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Greetings listeners and welcome to Star Diary, a weekly guide to the best things to see in the Northern Hemispheres Night's Sky. As we are based here in the UK all times are in GMT. In this week's episode we'll be covering the coming week from 26 December to 1 January. I'm Ezzy Pearson, the magazine's features editor, and I'm joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money. Hello, Paul.

Paul Hello Ezzy. We're into the Christmas week, into the new year. So think oh gosh. Oh, I, no, I can't believe it's nearly the end of the year.

Ezzy Good grief. I know it goes so quickly. You blink and then suddenly you're in 2023.

Paul Well, we've got a few things to actually look out for and a lot of them are in the evening sky. Hurray. So I shouldn't really say that I'm an astronomer or I should be used to getting up at any time of the night sort of thing. But well, we start off obviously with 26 December, Boxing Day, and look over towards the Southwest as twilight is ending and you'll spot the crescent moon. This time it lies below Saturn and both are in Capricornus. Now binoculars will enhance the Earthshine effect on the Moon, where light bounces off our planet's atmosphere and reflected off the dark side of the Moon, making the features faintly visible. So well worth having a look at that. So we mentioned this the other week, sort of thing, when it is in the morning sky will get the evening sky as well. A telescope will really enhance the view. And don't forget there's Saturn's rings. So if you have got family over Christmas sort of thing you know and you've got a new telescope get it pointed at Saturn. It's in the evening sky. This is perfect. And then looking at the rings of Saturn, because they will be absolutely gobsmacked. I always think that Saturn's rings and the Moon's craters are the two things that really get the wow from people. I do get people really excited about Jupiter and they can see the Moons and if you see the belts are really excited. But of course they always expect to see the great red spot in huge detail. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work like that with amateur astronomy, you're no longer at work, but otherwise it's quite dull.

Ezzy Especially if it's on the wrong side of the planet when you're looking at it.

Paul But that gives you a chance to explain "well, the planet rotates in 10 hours, so if you want to wait 5 hours, it might rotate in the view." But seeing Saturn's rings, that has to be one of the memorable moments when you first look through a telescope. Certainly was with mine, I think, gobsmacked. I had a little 60mm refractor, you know.

Ezzy Whenever you ask people, it was like, what was your first memory of being absolutely stunned by a view through a telescope? And by far the number one is the rings of Saturn.

Paul Yeah, definitely. Okay, now we move on to 27th to 29th, and over the next few days, keep an eye on Saturn, because what it's doing, it is slowly moving against the backdrop of the stars. And it's moving... I always like to use right and left because that's nice and simple. Everybody can understand that moving to the leftwards on that side. And so as it does so, it glides above Gamma Capricorni. Now also makes a triangle on the 28th. It forms a triangle, almost a right angle triangle with gamma and Delta Capricorni as well. So I like these steady, slow motion. It shows the planets are moving quite slow. You get something like Mars, it moves quite fast against the backdrop of stars. When you move further out, you see the distance starts to really have an effect on its motion. But you can still see the motion of Saturn even over these few days as it moves past these two stars. So that's on 27th to 29th. It gradually keep an eye on it as we move into next year as well, because it'll eventually move past Delta Capricorni as well. So still with 28th. 28th our Moon keeps the attention because it lies on the Neptune. Now you've got to remember of course Neptune really needs binoculars or a small telescope to actually view. So the prominent thing will be Jupiter. Now Jupiter's moving away from Neptune. So the gap is getting bigger. So the gap between the Moon and Jupiter now is bigger because Neptune's playing a bit of a triangle actually between them. But the next evening, 29 December, the almost half phase is not quite - not quite - first quarter. It's almost half phase Moon lies to the lower left of Jupiter itself and a lot closer. So I always think so on 28th, although we say it below Neptune, the fact is you can't see Neptune with the naked eye. What you will see is to the far upper left Jupiter compared with the Moon. So to the upper left of the Moon. But you were looking around with binoculars. You might pick out Neptune as well. So of course you got to remember, that's the last planet we're in the last days of the year. Have a look at the last planet of the Solar System.

Ezzy Exactly.

Paul Or at least the last official planet, we should say, since poor Pluto got demoted. Ahh

Ezzy The last major planet last.

Paul Last Major planet. Exactly. Meanwhile, on 29th, we can take to the actual evening sky, but in the deep twilight and on 29th, Mercury and Venus are pretty much at their closest for the end of the year. There are only one and a half degrees apart. That's three moon widths. Because you remember, the Moon is about a half a degree in diameter on average when we look at it. But catch them quickly because remember, they are setting quite quickly in the bright evening twilight. They don't stay around the night hanging around, Ezzy, so, you know, don't waste time. Make sure you have an uncluttered southwest horizon because they are critical, because they are so low down in the sky by the 1.5 degrees apart. I love it when you see them together, to be honest. I love getting pictures of them when they're close together because it doesn't happen every year.

Ezzy and as we're looking forward to next year, Venus will actually be making a close approach to all of the major planets within the solar system. Well, except for Mercury, which it's doing right at the tail end of 2022. So if you do want to catch Venus as it goes past all of the planets, do be sure to catch this one at the beginning.

Paul That'll be something really worth looking forward to, starting because these close encounter with the other planets its got to happen at the right time of year, but it's well worth keeping an eye on that. Now, as 2022 draws to a close and 2023 begins. We still got that brilliant red object in the sky – Mars. And it is slowly moving through Taurus. Now Mars is now moving to the right. It's retrograded. So as it does so, it is moving through Taurus in the evening sky. So it's quite, you know 9:00. Give it a chance to get it reasonably high in the sky so you get a good view of it. But this blazing red planet. So on 30 to 1 January, so 30 December to 1 January, it forms a triangle. Messier 45, The Pleiades star cluster, the Seven Sisters again remind us all things. See how many you can see. Now the Moon's reasonably out of the way. You see again how many you can actually count in the Pleiades. It forms a triangle, though, with Messier 45, the Pleiades and Aldebaran. And between Mars and Aldebaran, there's also the Hyades star cluster. Aldebaran looks as if he's part of that cluster. But we know now is half the distance. He's not actually physically associated with the Hyades star cluster. Now Mars is red, Aldebaran is red or an orange-red colour. Slightly different brightnesses. Mars is -1.2 magnitude, whereas Aldebaran is +0.8. But compare and contrast the colour of Mars with Aldebaran. And I think you'll find Mars is definitely the redder of the two. But it'd be interesting to see what people think. So yeah. Do contact us at the magazine to let us know which is the brightest. Always like it when... This happens when we get Mars close to Antares which is in the that is currently in the morning sky so Mars can't be close to it at the moment. But when Mars is close to Antares, I always like to compare the colours. And so in the winter sky we've actually got not just Aldebaran of course, but later on we'll actually when we get into next year, we'll also have a long distance view, but it will be Betelgeuse that you can compare it with as well. But at the moment, Aldebaran, compare the colours, see what we think, which is the redder of the actual two. Now we like a challenge and we mention this a few times, so let's concentrate on this. The final challenge as we move into 2023, how many stars of the Pleiades can you actually see with the naked eye? Not telescope, not binoculars. Don't use them. See with the naked eye. It doesn't matter. If you wear spectacles, you can try it with spectacles as well. Seven is the classically known number. The Seven Sisters, hence the common name, the seven sisters. Some people see six sort of things. If you've got poor eyesight, you might see two or three. It does vary from individual to individual. Everybody's eyes are different Ezzy, we forget this. Even if you don't wear glasses, we all have slightly different perception. We can see slightly better or slightly fainter than each other. My view before I wore glasses, I could see 11. That was the best I ever did. Really pitch black night. I got 11 before I started needing spectacles. Now I generally get the seven. Sometimes it's eight, so I do actually see eight. But spectacles add a layer of glass, you see. So it dims them very slightly. But I talked to Pete Laurence some years ago when we do when we're doing the Northern Lights together and we were commenting about the number of Pleiades we could count and I said, well, I've I've seen 11. And he said, Well. I've seen 15. I mean, that is remarkable. 19 doesn't break the record. Apparently the record is somebody in Arizona who could count 18 with the naked eye. But that's Arizona.

Ezzy Arizona has some very, very dark skies. I've been lucky enough to be to Arizona and go to one of the sort of out of the way places. And it's there's a reason why Kitt Peak, which is a big astronomical observatory complex, is in Arizona. It's very, very dark there. And also, I think to get up to 18, you probably it's probably somebody with particularly good eyesight as well. A combination of the two.

Paul Exactly. They do say actually the younger you are, the more sensitive you are. And I have noticed a difference as I've aged that I'm not seeing quite as faint as I used to. I mean, I could see Uranus with the naked eye when it was against a fairly blandish area of sky because it was moving through Capricornus and Aquarius and of course it's up now in Aries. But now I wear spectacles. So I've tried, I've suspected Uranus with the naked eye with my spectacles. But until you put your binoculars - that's the key. Put your binoculars up . Keep your gaze on the spot that you think is Uranus. Bring you binoculars up. And you see it. And the same thing with this you can convince yourself which stars are which if you look with the naked eye then I have a pair of binoculars and bring them up. Don't change your gaze. Keep them fixed on the Pleiades. Bring them up. And I think you'll find the difference is amazing because you could see at least 50 to 100 stars dependent on the binoculars you've actually got. And obviously, I would always recommend, if you're going to use binoculars anyway, put them on a tripod, you gain a full magnitude of faintness. You see stars a full magnitude fainter if you put it on a tripod because you don't have all that moving around with the actual typical bodily functions of something called breathing, which he is telling you as he we're going to bring you. But it does mean you don't realise how much you jiggle when you're doing that. So they also challenge you the naked eye and binoculars. And of course if you use a telescope you're going to see hundreds. It's about 230 to 250 actual members to the Pleiades. So there's a lot of stars there to play about with, starts off with the naked eye and then progressed from there and see how many you can count so that you can round off the year and see if you can be me, Pete, and this person in Arizona.

Ezzy Well, thank you very much, Paul, for taking us through your recommendations for the coming week. And if anybody at home wants to make sure that they get next week's recommendations, please be sure to subscribe to the Star Diary podcast. But just to go back over what you can expect to see on the 26th of December, the crescent moon will be passing by Saturn. It's a great chance to see some earthshine, so look out for thatAnd then on the 27th to the 29th of December, Saturn will be passing by the Gamma Capricornii Bright Star on the 28th. The Moon is going to lie just under Neptune, with Jupiter to its left. So great chance to see one of the brightest planets and the dimmest planet. Then on 29 December, there's going to be the closest approach of Mercury and Venus. They're going to get within one and a half degrees of each other. So that's a great chance to see two planets next to each other. And then finally on 30 to 1 January, Mars is going to be near the Pleiades, which is a great chance to to take a look at this spectacular thing in the night sky but it'll also be close to the Red Star Aldebaran. So if you want to compare the Red Star and the Red Planet, that's a good chance to do that. So some great astronomical sights to ring in the end of the new year and bring in the new one. So hopefully our listeners at home will be able to see some of those.

Paul Well, all it remains for us to say is happy new year to you, Ezzy I hope we have a great year to come with lots of star events and sky events to actually look forward to.

Ezzy And the same to you, Paul. If you want to find out even more spectacular sights that will be gracing the night sky throughout the month, be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Well, we have a 16 page Pull Sky guide with a full overview of everything worth looking out for. Whether you like to look at the moon, the planets, or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, telescopes or neither, our sky Guide has got you covered with the detailed star charts to help you track your way across the night sky. From all of us here at BBC Sky at Night Magazine, goodbye.


Chris Bramley Thank you for listening to this episode of The Start, our podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. For more of our podcasts, visit our website at skyatnightmagazine.com or head over to aCast, iTunes or Spotify.


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.