December is here and the longer nights mean lots of opportunities for star gazing. The longest night of the year will of course be this month on the 21st. The winter solstice marks the beginning of winter and the point in Earth’s orbit about the Sun when the sun seems to stand still as it stops its apparent southerly progressing and begins moving north again. If you imagine the Earth as an apple with a stem pointing away from the north pole, the stem is now pointing directly away from the Sun.
A nice Christmas present is provided by mother nature on the 26th with a new moon and dark skies to enjoy the night before Christmas.
If you are traveling in the western US during the holidays don’t forget to look for the lunar eclipse on the 10th. You will have to get up early to see the eclipsed full moon beginning at 6:05 AM PST.
For you early risers, from the 14th to the 28th you can see Mercury peeking above the southeastern sky. It only rises up to about 10 degrees above the horizon before the Sun comes up so you will need a clear horizon to see the smallest and hottest planet.
Jupiter is still brilliant high in the southern sky after dusk. Look for it snuggled close to the almost full Moon on the evening of the 6th. If you have a clear horizon to the southeast and southwest you can see the rising Jupiter and setting Venus on the opposite sides of the sky just after dusk.
The Geminid meteor shower on the nights of 13th and 14th normally brings lots of activity but the nearly full Moon will once again outshine all but the brightest meteors.
My two favorite winter objects, The constellation Orion and the Pleiades star cluster dominate the night sky after 10PM. With binoculars you can easily make out the seven brightest stars in the Pleiades (also called the Seven Sisters and Subaru by the Japanese). While you have your binocs out train them on Orion’s sword and observe the magnificent and famous Orion nebula (M42). You won’t see the colors like the time exposure in the Images section of the website, but it will still be spectacular in black and white. Its twice the diameter of the full moon and you can even make it out with the naked eye on a dark night.
If you were at the Boarding House last night you saw one of our beautiful Balsam Mounting sunsets. I only had my iphone so its not the best sunset photo I have take but I have included it below. If anyone took a photo with a real camera please email it to me and I will be happy to post it here.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We hope to see everyone at the Balsam New Years party if not before.