Friday, April 8, 2011

December 2010

As we shiver our way into the cold, clear months of winter, December brings some sights worth lugging some coffee along with you and losing a few hours of sleep to see.

The Geminids meteor shower will go streaking again! Expect to see a good show December 14th from about 12am to sunrise. While the Geminids can be seen from any point on the globe, in the northern hemisphere, the constellation Gemini should be directly overhead during the previously mentioned time frame; that should be a good place to begin searching. You can expect to see upwards of 100 meteors per hour!

Ever seen a full lunar eclipse? Now is your chance! Beginning just a little before midnight on December 20, the moon will go completely through earth's shadow throughout the night, coming out of it in the wee hours of the morning. And yes, the moon would have light from the the sun on the other side of earth shining on it, lighting it up in its usual grey. But, during an eclipse the light is coming in more at an angle, and this filters out all of the blue light that we normally see reflected through our atmosphere. The only colors that are left for us to see are the colors on the other end of the light spectrum (the reds, greens, and resulting browns). If earth had no atmosphere at all for light to be filtered through, the moon would look black and disappear completely during a total eclipse. So we are just (literally) seeing the shadier side of the moon! As the eclipse rings in the winter solstice, be sure to bundle up while you watch it-- unseasonably cold temperatures are being reported all around the world this autumn!

You can also expect to see Mercury and mars throughout the month in the west, as well as Jupiter and Uranus cruising high overhead near the constellation Aquarius. The more memorable constellations Orion and Taurus will be well above the horizon after sunset.

Pleiades (the seven sisters) is an open star cluster that is riding on the back of Taurus, and is best observed with binoculars. Pegasus and Andromeda are almost straight up. Look for the tiny fuzzy patch in Andromeda; this is M31, the Andromeda galaxy, the furthest the human eye can see. How far away is it, you ask? Oh, just 2.2. million light years away.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.


NASA had a super-awesome sky-watching promotion to tie in with the lunar eclipse: these badges for those who committed to report in when they saw the eclipse. You better believe we were all over that!

Image credit: NASA.

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