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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Three planets line up for a fine festive view

Posted on November 23 2012 at 1:53:07 0 comments

Looking south-east at 7.30am on December 11.<br />

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

I am not an expert in astrology but I do know that for the first half of December, the Sun is in the constellation of Ophiucus (pronounced “off-ee-you-cuss“).

So, if people born during this period are asked for their star sign, are they entitled to reply “Ophiucus”?

It so happens that this year, this is an excellent time for spotting three planets, all fairly close together. The bad news is that they are visible just before dawn – the good news being that at this time of year, the Sun doesn’t rise until eight o’clock (but of course, it sets at four in the afternoon!).

So, for people setting off for work or children who have been rudely awakened by their parents, take a moment to look to the south east from about seven in the morning (retired gentlemen will have to make an extra effort!). It should be obvious because the sky will be getting lighter in this direction.

The bright star Arcturus will be high in the sky but down near the horizon are Saturn, Venus and Mercury, all close together with nearby Spica trying to muscle in on the act.

As the days go by, Venus and Mercury will move away from Saturn but on the morning of the 11th, a thin crescent Moon may be seen, close to Venus. Do take the time to have a look; it should make a cheering start to the day.

About 12 hours later, just where Arcturus was, we have another bright planet, Jupiter. This is unmistakeable, the brightest object in the sky, and this year posing next to the brightest star in Taurus, Aldebaran, looking very much the Red Giant that it is.

The 25th will be special because the Moon moves in to steal the show, so that makes it a day to look forward to!

Just above and right a bit, we have the wonderful cluster of the Pleiades, forming a triangle with Jupiter and Aldebaran.

As the days go by and the whole sky rotates westward, Jupiter will move to the right and by the end of January, the triangle will have become a straight line.

From that point on, Jupiter starts to move back again and we should be able to observe it until the Summer. Look for another close encounter with the Moon around January 21st.

December 13th is a good time for meteor spotting. This particular shower is one of the biggest and is called the Geminids because, if you trace their paths back, they would appear to have come from the constellation of Gemini.

The best place to look, though, is whichever direction you can see most sky, the darker the better. Things are helped by the fact that this is New Moon.

Full Moon is on December 28th and if you’re out and about late in the evening, notice how high it gets at this time of year. The 14th marks exactly 40 years since man last walked there.

Gene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17, left the surface with the words, “We came in peace for all mankind”, adding that he thought we would return one day.

Well, we never have returned, but let’s hope everyone has a peaceful Christmas.

Above: Looking south-east at 7.30am on December 11.


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