I remember a Christmas Day some 15 years ago when a ¾ partial eclipse of the Sun occurred at midday. It was a cool, clear day and I was out there with my tripod and camera (a primitive DSLR) taking time lapse photos of the event while family and friends were inside celebrating the day and looking forward to a great Christmas feast. They finally dragged my frozen body inside to carve the turkey! I’m not saying that you gentle readers should be as fanatical as me but with the extra free time that the holiday season provides, it’s a golden opportunity for some early evening observing.
There’s certainly plenty up there. If you go out about 8 pm and look straight up towards the zenith, you will find the W shape of Cassiopeia. A little to the east is Perseus with the famous double cluster right between them. The double cluster is spectacular and easy to find in binoculars. Directly south is the constellation Andromeda. Its infamous galaxy Andromeda is due to plow into us denizens of the Milky Way in about 4 billion years. We have a few years to prepare for that. Andromeda is attached to the north east corner of the great square of Pegasus. There are wondrous sights in and around it. Cygnus the swan is heading for the western horizon and its crucifix shape is still quite prominent. There are so many objects to see in binoculars in its area. The 3 stars of the summer triangle, Altair, Lyra and Deneb are easy to find in early evening. Can’t call them the summer triangle anymore; more like the blizzards are coming trio! Here’s a challenge. Towards the northern horizon are the big dipper and the little dipper – Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Running from the north west side of them and between them, is the constellation Draco. It’s definitely a challenge to trace all the stars that make up that snake like constellation. Get some star charts and go hunting!
Now let’s see what’s going on this month.
Dec. 3rd: At 8am you should still be able to make out bright Venus as the Moon passes 6 degrees north of it.
Dec. 5th: The Moon is positioned just 3 degrees north of Mars at 6am.
Dec. 13th: The Geminid Meteor shower peaks. Watch for meteors in the days before and after this date. It’s usually a pretty good show but this year the peak is on the same night as the Full Moon. This month’s full Moon is called the Full Cold Moon for obvious reason. It is also called the Long Night Full Moon. The nights are longer and since the Moon is higher in the sky, it stays up longer.
Dec. 20th: Last quarter Moon.
Dec.21st: Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day of the year. Also marks the first day of winter. As far as I’m concerned winter started back in October - crazy!
Dec. 22nd: Ursid meteor shower peaks. Because of the Full Moon on the Geminid peak night, this smaller shower will probably put on a better show. There won’t be much of a Moon in the sky.
Dec. 27th: The Moon passes close north of Saturn.
Dec. 29th: New Moon.
To all, may there be many stars in your future and keep looking up. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Clear Skies! Fred.
“The Beginner’s Observing Guide by Leo Enright is an invaluable companion for adventures in the sky. It contains star charts and is available at the Sharbot Lake Pharmacy. It can also be ordered from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at www.rasc.ca/publications. A subscription to our very own excellent Canadian astronomy magazine “SkyNews”, with its centerfold sky chart, can be arranged at the RASC website as well.