The Full Wolf Moon and Alhena

Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Tuesday to you. Tuesday doesn’t get the love that it should, does it?

The January full moon, which will be sliding among the gorgeous and bright lights of the Winter Circle tomorrow night, the 11th, is called the Full Wolf Moon. It’s named for the cold, hungry packs of wolves that would roam near Native American villages looking for food. Maybe next year they’ll plan better.

There’s not a lot happening with this, the first full moon of the year, but it is a good time to have a look at the stars around it. They’re all pretty bright, but, of course, not as bright as the moon is. They’ll be washed out a bit. You’ll still be able to see them, though, if you want to have a look at the Winter Circle. I know, I know, I haven’t talked about the Winter Circle yet this year, but it’s on the list; don’t worry.

By mid-evening, when the moon is high enough over the houses and trees across the street, it’ll be in the middle of a tidy triangle made by the stars Pollux, one of the Gemini twins, Procyon, in Canis Minor (the little dogs), and Alhena, which is the third brightest star in Gemini. Everyone’s friend, Betelgeuse is not far away, shining bright as always from Orion’s shoulder, as is Castor, the other twin. Like Betelgeuse, Alhena isn’t thought of as part of the Winter Circle, but it’s within it, so the circle makes it easy to find.

The Full Wolf Moon among the Winter Circle (from Stellarium)
The Full Wolf Moon among the Winter Circle (from Stellarium)

Alhena’s another one of those interesting, off-brand stars that I love so much; the stars that   don’t get talked about a lot. Like I said, it’s not part of the Winter Circle, and it’s only the third brightest of the stars in its constellation, after Pollux and Castor. If you take the time to have a look at it, either tomorrow night, or some other night when the moon’s not screaming at the top of its lungs, it’s worth it.

It’s a brilliant icy white star, much bigger and much more luminous than our Sun is, and about 110 light years away. I wonder if it sort of suffers from the same problem that the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge does. It’s a gorgeous, and gorgeously set, bridge that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves because of the competition from the Golden Gate that it has to face. Maybe in any other part of the sky, Alhena would seem more spectacular.

If you’re looking for a little more excitement from your full moons, tune in in February. For now, let’s just the quiet and simple pleasure of January’s Full Wolf Moon, and nearby Alhena.

Clear skies, everyone!

 

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