Capella arrives first, bringing Castor and Pollux. Aldebaran checks in and takes the seat to the right. Procyon and Rigel are late comers, but are by no means last to arrive.

Sirius, the brightest of stars, finally makes a grand entrance and calls the Winter Circle to order.

These envoys meet nightly and represent constituents from the constellations Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Taurus, Gemini and Auriga. Their sessions last through the evening, as they preside over the cold, winter nights.

To see this stellar congregation, you won't need binoculars or a telescope, only a clear night. These stars will be visible for the next several weeks, but the best time to catch them is now.

Look high in the east-southeast sky and find the H shape of Orion. Orion's belt aims down (left) and points toward Sirius. Up and to the left of Sirius is Procyon and the circle begins to take shape.

Above Procyon sit Pollux and then Castor. At the top of the circle, diagonal from Sirius, rests Capella. Moving clockwise, you'll find Aldebaran. Completing the Winter Circle These stars will be visible for the next several weeks, but the best time to catch them is now. is Rigel, in the lower right corner of Orion's H.

If you're far from the hindrance of city nights, you'll also notice the Milky Way spills through the circle.

At dusk, find the bright Venus beaming from the west-southwest. Earth's sister planet glows at about a -4.0 magnitude (very bright) through the early evening.

That other bright object, although much higher in the southern sky, and east of Venus, is Jupiter.

The Soviet space station Mir makes two passes over Washington this weekend. Mir begins its first pass at 6:22 a.m. Saturday in the south-southwest sky. It flies to the southeast at 6:27 a.m. where it will be 41 degrees above the horizon. Finally, it heads east-northeast.

Mir's Sunday morning passage starts at 6:46 a.m. in the west-southwest sky. By 6:51 a.m., it will be in the northwest, about 47 degrees above the horizon.

In flight, the space station will look similar to a fast airplane. Dr. William E. Howard III of the Naval Space Command says both passages should be good views.

Getting Down-to-Earth Jan. 8 (and every Friday through January) -- A science-fiction film festival at the Langley Theater, Air & Space Museum. 7:30 p.m. Free admission. Offerings include "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (this Friday), "The Blob" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." For further information, 357-2700.

Jan. 9 -- Dr. Martin O. Harwit, the new director of the Air & Space Museum, discusses recent astronomical finds in his lecture "Cosmic Discoveries." At the Einstein Planetarium, Air & Space Museum. 9:30 a.m. Free.

Jan. 9 -- Watch the stars and the night sky with astronomers from the Goddard Visitor's Center in Greenbelt. 7-9 p.m. Free.

Jan. 9 and 10 -- The NASA film series continues with "Jupiter Odyssey" and "New View of Space" at the Goddard Visitor's Center in Greenbelt. Starts both days at 1 p.m., admission is free.

Jan. 9 -- That lucky old sun keeps swelling, shrinking, turning and twisting. The National Capital Astronomers society presents Dr. David Rust of Johns Hopkins University, who will talk on helioseismology. Einstein Planetarium, Air & Space Museum. 7:30 p.m. Free.

Jan. 20 -- Astronomer Tim Heckman talks about black holes and quasars in the monthly lecture at the observatory at the University of Maryland. The talk begins at 8 p.m., sky gazing afterward. Free. For more information, call 454-3001.

Jan. 28 -- What's our nation's space policy? Join Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, USAF (Ret.), for his lecture "Destination Space: Managing Our Nation's Space Program" at the Air & Space Museum, 8 p.m. Free.