Star-gazing in the new year

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It's new year's eve tomorrow and we've got a host of new stars to look forward to in January 2009. No, I don't mean the start of Celebrity Big Brother, I'm talking about the night sky and its numerous stars to spot over the next few weeks. Although, reading the mythological stories behind the constellations, you could be forgiven for thinking that they had come out of a celebrity gossip mag - plenty of betrayals and lost love. The Brad/Angelina/Jennifer debacle is nothing compared to this lot! Our Planetarium Co-ordinator and resident night sky expert, John Moran, has brought us January's Nightwatch report about Orion the Hunter and Perseus the great Greek hero...

Night sky constellation map

Starry, starry night: Orion the Hunter, officially more interesting than Shilpa Shetty.

The true winter constellations are on show in January with the Hunter Orion dominating the mythological cast of characters. Orion was a boastful hunter who claimed he could hunt and kill any animal, but met his match with a lowly scorpion as he couldn’t penetrate its armour. Orion fled into the sea and as he was swimming away, Apollo tricked his sister Artemis, who was in love with Orion, into firing an arrow at the far away object swimming in the sea. The arrow hit its mark and when Artemis found out what she had done, she begged Zeus to place Orion among the stars for all eternity and placed the scorpion on the opposite side of the sky.

Another constellation on show this month is Perseus named after the handsome Greek hero who saved the life of Andromeda by defeating the evil sea monster Cetus. Perseus had just slain the Gorgon Medusa and was carrying her head back as a trophy, because even in death Medusa’s head was still capable of turning any creature that looked upon her into stone and this is how he defeated Cetus.

On the 4th of the month look out for the first meteor shower of 2009, the Quantadrids, which have a high rate of 60 meteors per hour. Look out also for the ringed planet Saturn, which you will find in the constellation Leo around 9pm onwards. Don’t forget that 2009 is the international year of astronomy, so there should be plenty of interesting things to do and see to keep your imagination fired over the coming year.