A boon for stargazers, unusually long, dark mornings follow the winter solstice and continue as the New Year begins, rewarding the curious who venture outdoors at dawn. The solstice-time Sun rises at 7:20am this week through January 10. Mornings continue dark as afternoons are increasingly brighter: today’s sunset is at 4:40pm; sundown on January 10 is 4:47pm.
While familiar constellations of the winter season travel the sky at night, the celestial dome at dawn is painted with spring and summer stars and planet Mars. Around the winter solstice, quintessential summer star patterns, Scorpius the Scorpion and the Summer Triangle, rise in the morning sky along the southeast and northeast horizon, respectively. At summer solstice they are in the same positions when they rise in the evening sky. When we recall where on the skyline the Scorpion and the Triangle rise in June, we are reminded of balmy summer evenings while stargazing on frosty mornings.
Referring to the diagram, above, spring stars are higher in the sky at dawn, having preceded summer. See orange Arcturus, the second brightest star in northern skies, trailed by blue Spica and vivid Corvus the Crow.
How did Omicron Ophiuchi, 5.12 magnitude (i.e. not visible with the naked eye), come to my attention? When working on StarryNight7 software to compose the star chart, a slip of the cursor into the space around Mars brought Omicron Ophiuchi into view. Intrigued, I read the description: “a double star, part of a multiple star system.”
Although the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is simply named for the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, I had in mind reports that state the number of mutations is higher than we’ve seen in previous variants. My interest in the multiple aspect led me to discover that in astronomy, “Omicron is used to designate the fifteenth star in a constellation group,” prompting more questions. Celebrate curiosity in 2022.