Chinese New Year of the Rooster and Twin Brothers in the Sky

Our celestial week ahead features couple nice planet-Moon gatherings in the morning sky, some evening sightings of ISS and the Chinese New Year designated as the year of the Rooster begins. Here is your guide to the sky for January 22 -28, 2017.

Sky for January 22-28 at 8 pm

Sky for January 22-28 at 8: 00 pm courtesy of

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 7:02 am and sunset at 4:34 pm as we continue to lengthen our daylight moving toward the Vernal Equinox where we have equal amounts of daylight and night.  New Moon takes place on Friday at 7:07pm.   On January 28th the Chinese New Year begins.  The Chinese calendar is lunisolar one based on astronomical observations of the Sun’s longitude and the Moon’s phases. It attempts to have its years coincide with the tropical year – the return of the Sun to the same position in the sky (Vernal Equinox to Vernal Equinox). The Chinese New Year should start the day after the New Moon closest to the beginning of northern hemisphere spring and fall between January 21 and February 21 – so this year that is on January 28th as the New Moon in February does not take place until 26th of that month.  Happy year of the Rooster!


Venus and Mars shine in the southwest after sunset this week and both are located in the constellation of Pisces.  Jupiter rises just after 11:00 pm in the east.  This week the Waning Crescent Moon frames Saturn and Mercury in the eastern sky before sunrise. On Tuesday the Moon will be four degrees north of Saturn, and on Wednesday it will be 4 degrees north of Mercury.   You will need a good eastern horizon without to many trees or houses to catch these morning planets.

Constellation of the Week

Let’s find some twins this week in our sky – Gemini!  Orion has been guiding us as we make our way around the Winter constellations.  Find Orion and use his right foot Rigel (a blue-white supergiant star) and draw a line up through the belt going through his left shoulder Betelgeuse (a red supergiant star) extending it northward until you come to two stars that look alike.  These are the Gemini twins of Castor (right side) and Pollux (left side) marking the heads of figures. Castor has four stars which mark his body and short legs, while Pollux has six stars with a shorter body and longer legs.   To the Greeks, these twins were the sons of Leda.   Pollux was the son of Zeus being immortal, and Castor was the son of the King of Sparta, Leda’s husband.  The two were seen as sailors and one legend explains that while the two were sailing a storm came up and blew Castor overboard.  His brother Pollux jumped in to save him, but alas it was too late and Castor drown.  Pollux was heartbroken, but was immortal.  He begged Zeus to be with his brother in the underworld, and Zeus finally agreed the brothers could be together placing them in the sky as constellations.  Castor and Pollux now are seen as the protectors of sailors.

Satellites to see

This week there are some evening passes of the International Space Station (ISS) – so those of you who are not early risers finally have a chance to check it out on Friday and Saturday nights. Earlier in the week see some morning satellites.  On Monday try spotting the Chinese Tiangong 2 from 5:59 to 6:05 am moving from southwest to east.  It has another good pass on Wednesday from 5:31 to 5:36 am moving from west to east.   Friday evening see ISS from 6:52 to 6:54 pm moving from southwest to south-southwest.  Saturday watch for it from 6:00 to 6:04 pm moving from south to southeast.  Both of these passes are low, so you need good horizon to see them.

Our Maine skies always has sights to see! For a live guided tour of the night sky, join me at the Emera Astronomy Center for one of our regular programs on Friday nights at 7:00 pm (see the schedule here) or the Sunday afternoon children’s program at 2:00 pm geared for family audiences.  For now, keep your eye on the sky!

Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.