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Starwatch: Mars and the moon in close encounter with bull

Starwatch chart showing view from London on Tuesday 3 January at 9pm

The moon and Mars are the heralds of this particular new year. On 3 January, they will pass each other in the night sky. The moon will be in its waxing gibbous phase, about 11 days old with 92% of its visible surface illuminated.

The chart shows the view looking south-south-east from London at 21.00 GMT on 3 January.

The conjunction takes place in the constellation of Taurus, the bull. During northern winter time, the star field around this constellation is particularly beautiful. Below Taurus is Orion, the hunter. He is imagined to be holding a club in his upraised right hand, and a shield in his left – ready to counter the charge of the bull. Behind Orion are his hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor.

The star of Sirius – the brightest star in the sky – marks out the larger of the dogs. It can often be seen twinkling fiercely in the northern winter air. Meanwhile, the delicate yellow hue of Procyon, the eighth brightest star in the sky, draws the eye to the smaller of Orion’s hunting dogs.

From the southern hemisphere, these constellations appear upside down in the northern sky. They are well-placed for viewing about midnight.

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