Planets, constellations chart predictable paths

Jan. 1—Happy New Year! As we greet the clean sheet of the year 2023 one thing we can count on will be the faithful motions of the celestial bodies. One of the favorite constants is the brilliance of Venus in the night sky at sunset and later in the predawn sky. Keeping track of the neighboring planet might be the thing that makes you curious to learn more about the objects in the sky and create an interest in participating with the South Texas Astronomical Society. Check it out on their Facebook page: This very active group shares events often and all are family friendly.

The long nights of winter bring sharper images of stars and the constellations they delineate. There are 88 constellations officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union which uses those depicted by Greek and Roman astronomers, but the various countries that existed across the millennia include many others.

It intrigues me to think about how people in what became the USA recognized the Big and Little Dippers as First Man, the star Polaris as the home fire and Cassiopeia as First Woman. Orion the Hunter is Long Sash who led his people to the west.

When I used to tell the stories of constellations to families at the public library, Orion's dog Canis Major's (mama dog) brightest star, Sirius, became known as the rabies tag-because Orion cared enough about his dogs to be sure they had their rabies vaccination. Ah, the things we use to get not-so-subtle messages across.

Venus will be edging from the constellation Capricornus, the Sea Goat, into Aquarius by the last week of January. Those of us a certain age may recall the excitement engendered by the "dawning of the age of Aquarius" but the constellations and whatever planet is appearing against the background constellation have absolutely no effect on what you choose to do or not do. Those are choices each of us make.

As Venus leaves one constellation for another the planet is drawing closer to Saturn. Both planets will sink below our view within two hours of sunset so be sure to check the western sky early. Of course, Venus will be brilliant and Saturn faint, but the two are worth seeking.

Mercury is the speedy one of the planets; its smaller orbit keeps it low in the sky and it rapidly disappears from view. Taking a chance about 20 minutes after sunset, look with binoculars a few degrees west of Venus to play "I spy" this week. By the end of the month, it will be in the morning sky for a brief period of time.

Mars is vibrant in the eastern early nighttime sky, later it is in the south. Have you been following the NASA/JPL Perseverance rover adventures on the Red Planet? The little amazing helicopter Ingenuity has been performing far beyond the wildest dreams of the engineers who designed this wonderful tool. will give you a look at the helicopter.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year filled with blessings and joy. Until next week, KLU