January is a wonderful time of year to enjoy the great outdoors -- at night!

A snowy landscape lit with the low noon time winter sun is a wonder to behold. Winter days are much too short. On the other hand, winter nights are long, offering early evening views of the stars.

This month in particular, offers a rare treat: a total lunar eclipse, which will be visible across North America. Over the night of January 20-21, the full Moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow.  For over an hour, the normally brilliant Moon will be dimmed and take on a reddened hue.
The January full Moon stands very high up in the sky around midnight and would normally cast bright moonlight on the landscape, especially vivid when the ground is blanketed in snow.  Due to the eclipse, this year the ground will be cast in darkness and the moonlit sky restored to a darkened sky, speckled with stars. This unfortunately depends on how much light pollution invades your sky!

More details on the eclipse will be presented in an upcoming column.

Winter’s evening stars include a collection of bright stars all within an eighth of the entire,visible sky. This includes the magnificent constellation Orion with his three-star belt and two very bright stars, red Betelgeuse and white Rigel; to the lower left, the brightest star of the night, blue-white Sirius; to the left of Orion, yellow Procyon; to the upper left, white Castor and yellow Pollux; high up, yellow Capella; and to the upper right of Orion, the bright red star Aldebaran.

In early January, around 8 p.m., Orion stands in the southeastern sky. High up in the southern sky is the beautiful, compact star cluster, the Pleiades.
The planet Mars appears like a bright orange-red star, in the southwest.

A reminder of the warm nights of summer, in January the famous Northern Cross, which is part of the constellation Cygnus the Swan, stands upright as a cross is normally visualized. Look in the west-northwest, in early evening.

Swinging north and catch the Big Dipper as it stands upright, balancing on its handle stars.

The five stars of Cassiopeia appear like the letter "M," high in the north.

About a half hour before sunrise in early January, look towards the southeast. The planet Venus shines very bright in the coming dawn, approximately a quarter of the way up the sky. To the lower left is planet Jupiter, not quite as bright and much more distant. Each morning you can watch as Venus appears to move closer to Jupiter. The two planets, which shine white, make a triangle with a bright red star, Antares.

Unless you live in a mild region, to enjoy the richness of the Universe in the so-called "dead of winter," you need to be prepared. Dressing in layers, wearing a winter hat and gloves, and using hunters’ hand and foot warming packets all help.

New Moon is on January 5. and first quarter is on the 14th.

Keep looking up!
Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.