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The Night Sky in Winter

by Pennie on November 29, 2012

There was a huge, full moon tonight when I was coming home around 6:30pm.  It was not that high off the horizon so it looked really big, like a giant yellow balloon in the sky.  I was so taken with it that when I walked in the door, I brought my grandson back outside to see it.  We marveled for a moment or two before retreating from the chill.

The night sky in winter is a wonderful thing to see.  It is much clearer than in summer.  One reason for the clarity of a winter’s night is that cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air can.  Therefore the stars appear sharper and you can just see many more of them than in the summer.

December in particular holds a few really great sights to see.  Early in the month (the 3rd) the huge planet Jupiter rises as the sun sets in the evening and will be very high in northern skies at midnight, making it readily visible for all to see.  This is the best viewing in many years!  Jupiter will seem to be a very bright yellow “star” rising nearly due east as evening twilight ends.  It is easily the brightest of all objects (except for the moon when in that part of the sky) in the nighttime sky.

Around the fourteenth is the Geminid Meteor Shower.  This shower is probably the best meteor shower of the year with high rates of slow bright meteors. Rates of 120+ meteors per hour can be seen.  That is LOT of meteors shooting around the sky!  The best time to look out for this shower is on the evenings of the 12th to 14th December, but these meteors can be seen much earlier or later than those dates.  Now, unfortunately, best viewing is usually after midnight–out in the cold–so you really have to want to see a meteor shower, but it really is worth the effort!

On December 21st is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Or if you live south of the equator, it is the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year!

Alright, so maybe I geeked out a little and you can tell I’ve done a little amateur astronomy!  But even knowing all these things doesn’t lessen my amazement when I stand outside at night and gaze up at billions and billions of stars and imagine at what is out there and wonder at the beauty of it all.  And perhaps recite a little poem…

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alison Jones November 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

Thanks for the head’s up on the meteor shower. I haven’t watched for one of them since I was a teen. If it’s not snowing, I’ll bundle up and drag myself out this year.

2 Jill L December 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I have to write down the dates for the Geminid Meteor Shower. We used to crawl up on our roof to watch them in our old house.

3 Lisa Garner December 3, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I knew why winter skys seemed brighter so thank you for posting this fun information.

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