This Week in Nature: January 18-24

Bright stars:

Winter Circle

Clear winter nights in January are the perfect time to see eight of the night sky’s 25 brightest stars. These eight form what is known as the Winter Circle: Sirius, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Pollux, and Castor.

 

Mercury joins the four-planet line-up:

Mercury enters the morning sky on January 20.

Mercury joins morning 1

The view of the morning sky prior to January 20. Once mercury arrives, you will be able to see all five bright planets simultaneously for the first time since 2005.

Mercury joins morning 2

Once mercury is visible, the line-up of the planets should help you to find it.

 

Snow cover:

Winter snow cover

At this time of year, approximately 35 percent of the earth’s total land area is covered with snow. The Northern Hemisphere (obviously currently in winter), with 68 percent of the earth’s land, has most of that snow.

 

Baby delay:

elephant seal births

Having one of the most spectacularly reproductive habits of all the marine mammals, the elephant seal reproduces during winter. The most fascinating part, however, is that they have “delayed implantation” which assures a yearly reproductive routine no matter when the gestation period is. This means that elephant seals can actually keep their fetuses from developing within them so that they can all give birth practically simultaneously – or at most within the same two weeks.

 

Frostbite:

frostbitten plant

When a plant can’t keep a part of its surface from freezing, that part dies. Resist the tendency to prune them. Frostbitten plants should be left alone until new growth starts. This will mark exactly where the freeze damage stops. Wait until new buds start to open, then you will know how much damage there is.

 

Image 1: Astro Bob
Images 2 & 3: EarthSky.org
Image 4: NASA
Image 5: marinebio.net

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