Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 2011, 12.01.11

As the year draws to a close, we can only grow more excited about all the great things we have yet to see this year. Bundle up, grab some coffee or cocoa, and get ready for the show!

This month, the full moon will grace us on the 10th and we will have a new moon by the 24th, just in time to do some Christmas Eve star gazing.

The march of sun spots continues. The end of November saw a goodly amount of flares and CME’s shot at us, and more can be expected this month. Remember to never try solar observation without the proper equipment.

The Geminids are coming! We always love a good meteor shower. From December 12th-24th, the earth will pass through the debris trail of comet 3200 Phaethon. This should be the best show of the year, with a multi-colored display that has produced fireballs in the past. The Geminids will appear to radiate from the star Castor, one of the twins, in the constellation Gemini as it rises higher and higher into the sky as the night progresses. With the darker skies we are expecting later this month and hopefully clear weather, we can expect up to 100 meteors per hour.

The coming of winter brings with it very bright, prominent constellations. A good one to try to pick out is Taurus the bull. There are many deep space objects in Taurus, the Pleiades open star cluster M45, and the Hades cluster NGC 1647. The famous M1 Crab nebula can be seen at the tip of the horn, a supernova remnant with a neutron star at its heart. Taurus’ alpha star Aldebaran, 65 light years away, used to be like our sun, but now it is running out of fuel and is classified as a K3 III sub-giant. Its days are numbered, for in the next million years or so the whole thing will go nova.

Venus and Jupiter are putting on a pretty good show this month. Jupiter is cruising high overhead through the constellation Pisces. Although it will only be visible for relatively short periods of time, many are dubbing Venus this year’s “Christmas star,” as it will be the brightest thing in the night sky besides the moon. You can see it about 15 degrees over the horizon towards the east-northeast just after sunset, especially around the 24th, as the moon will be new and the skies will be extra-dark.