Backyard Stargazer – The stars of winter
By Francis Parnell
Late December is the time to begin looking for the bright wintertime constellations of Taurus, Orion, Canis Major and Gemini rising in the east. If you have a constellation app for your smartphone, you’re set. But monthly star charts can be found online and printed out.
At dusk on the 1st, Saturn was 10 degrees upper left of sparkling white Venus with Jupiter 7 degrees lower right of Venus. They formed a string of pearls 17 degrees long in the southwest. The waxing crescent Moon was upper left of the trio.
On the 10th and 11th at dusk, find yellow Saturn less than 2 degrees to the upper right of sparkling Venus.
On the 13th at dusk, spot Venus with Saturn 3 degrees to the right.
The night of the 14th is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. This year, unfortunately, we have to contend with the 94 percent waning gibbous Moon, so only the brighter meteors will be visible.
The Sun is at the Solstice, its lowest point in our sky, on the 21st at 11:19 p.m. It’s about 33 degrees above the southern horizon at noon. At the June Solstice at 1 p.m., it’s 79 degrees above our horizon.
Look southwest at dusk on the 28th to find bright white Venus 2 degrees above the slim crescent Moon. With earthshine on the Moon, it’s a fantastic sight in binoculars!
FAST FACT: Start 2020 by wishing on a star! At midnight on the 31st/1st, look south-southeast and you’ll see dazzling white Sirius, the Dog Star, in Canis Major, the brightest of the nighttime stars. It’s 8.6 light-years away (51 trillion miles), 1.8 times the Sun’s diameter and 25 times the luminosity. My wish is ready!
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and “Keep looking up!”