Our winter almanac 08.01.2010-14.01.2010

14.01.2010 is the Hindu Festival of Makar Sankrant also known as Lohri in Punjab, Kicheri in Uttar Pradesh, and known as Pongal, the 3 day harvest festival, in Southern India.

The festival is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu calendar and celebrates the sun’s journey into the northern hemisphere, a period which is considered to be highly auspicious.

In Gujarat and Maharashtra, Makar Sankrant is a festival of the young and the old. Colourful kites are flown all around.

Changing Places
January is the first month of our year 2010, named after the Roman god of the gateway, Janus. Janus had two faces, one face with eyes looking forward to the new year and the other face looking back to the old.

In England the new year has not always begun on the 1st January. Over a thousand years ago it was Christmas Day that marked a new Year. Then about 800 years ago the first day of the year was changed to the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, or Lady Day, on March 25. This was the beginning of the legal, or civil year until 1751 when the date was changed again to begin the next year on January 1 1752.

While people are free to change their minds over the days and dates of the calendar, the stars in the night sky remain in the positions they have occupied for thousands of years.

To see any change in the position of the stars, and the patterns they make in the night sky, you would have to travel 100,000 years in time. This means that the ancient people who gave these constellations the names we use today, would recognize the astronomical scene we see this week as made from the winter constellations. They would have recognized Orion the Hunter, just as we do now, with his belt made from three bright stars, well up in the north eastern sky by 20.00h.

The Dog Star

Looking at the night sky at this time of year, in a place where there are no street lights to make the stars difficult to see, it will be possible to see the winter Milky Way. This is an entirely different view of our home galaxy than we will see in the summer. This is because during the night at this time of year we look out to the edge of our galaxy into deepest space, while in summer we look towards the centre of the galaxy, obscured by vast clouds of interstellar dust.

Astronomers have identified two specific spiral arms that stretch out to the edge of our galaxy, and it is these structures of stars, and the dust and gas that gives rise to new stars, we see in the winter Milky Way.



A typical spiral galaxy like the Milky Way in the constellation Coma Berenices, is about 17,000 parsecs in diameter and approximately 20 million parsecs distant. The parsec (parallax of one arcsecond; symbol: pc) is a unit of length, equal to just under 31 trillion kilometres (about 19 trillion miles), or about 3.26 light-years.

Looking for bright stars
Between 21.00hrs and 22.00hrs GMT look for the Milky Way high in the sky. Then run your eye from the zenith toward the south-south eastern horizon and you might be able to see eight bright stars.


Look out for Sirius, the ‘Dog Star’, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, and the brightest star in the night sky. This star has been responsible for a lot of people thinking they have seen an unidentified flying object, or UFO. The brightness of the star and its position quite low down in the night sky causes some optical effects produced by the Earth’s atmosphere, including colour shifts and movement, and a feeling that this star is much closer than it actually is.

In fact, Sirius is 51 trillion miles from Earth, making this star a near neighbour of ours and the fifth nearest star to our Sun.

One of the pupils at South View came up with a modern version for the Constellation Logo for their school. Pizza!


The thaw begins in South View 14.01.2010

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