May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for December 2014

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Near the start of December each year, the first magnitude star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull and “follower” of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, is visible all night as Earth makes its annual passage between Aldebaran and the Sun. Look for Aldebaran low in ENE at dusk, high in south in middle of night, and low in WNW at dawn.

On New Year’s Eve, the brightest star, Sirius, the Dog Star, reaches its high point in the south in the middle of the night, 6° higher and almost exactly 12 hours after the Sun reaches its midday perch. You can observe Sirius for much of the night, but not at dusk or dawn, because the star’s path from rising to setting is too far south and too short to keep it above the horizon through the long winter night. Some 21-22 minutes earlier and 36° below where Sirius reaches its highest, observers in southern California can try for Canopus, second brightest star visible in the nighttime skies of Earth. From Los Angeles and Palm Springs, it’s only 3°-4° up.

Four brightest “stars” at dusk: Venus (after it emerges around midmonth) mag. –3.9; Mercury (near month’s end) –0.8; Vega 0.0, Capella +0.1.

Planets: Watch for slow emergence of Venus from beyond Sun, followed by Mercury closing to 3° lower right of Venus at month’s end, in SW to WSW. Binoculars help spot Mercury very low in bright twilight by closing days of December. On Jan. 10 Mercury will approach to just 0.6° lower right of Venus! Mars (+1.0 to 1.1) is in SSW to SW all of December, to upper left of Venus.

Stars: The Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb is high in W, still well up at dusk as winter arrives. Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, crosses south. Capella is in NE, Aldebaran is in ENE, both moving to upper right as month progresses. Appearing above eastern horizon late in month are Orion’s Betelgeuse and Rigel, and Gemini’s Pollux (with fainter Castor above it, not plotted).

Moon near bright objects at dusk: Full Moon appears closely upper right of Aldebaran at dusk on Dec. 5 (passing it overnight), and widely lower left of that star on the next evening. On Dec. 22 about 30 min. after sunset, Venus appears about 6° S (lower left) of the young crescent Moon. On the next evening, look for Venus about 11° to Moon’s lower right. On Dec. 24, look for Mars 6°-7° S (lower left) of Moon. On Dec. 5, Mars appears about 11° to Moon’s lower right. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 2, 2015, the waxing gibbous Moon will “leapfrog” past Aldebaran.

December 2014 at dawn:

Five brightest “stars”: Jupiter (mag. –2.3 to –2.4); Sirius (–1.4), Arcturus (mag. –0.1), Vega (0.0), Capella (+0.1).

Planets: Jupiter high in SW sky; Saturn (mag. +0.5) ascending in ESE to SE.

Stars: All the stars of the huge Winter Hexagon except Rigel are visible in the western morning sky at the start of December. As the month progresses, two more of its stars, Aldebaran and Sirius, drop out, as well as Betelgeuse within the Hexagon. The trailing side of the Hexagon, forming the arch of Procyon, Pollux (and Castor, not shown) and Capella remains in view throughout December. Jupiter and Regulus close in tow follow the descending arch into the western sky. In the eastern sky, Arcturus dominates, with Vega and Deneb far to its lower left, and Spica to its lower right. Find Saturn to Spica’s lower left, and, late in month, Antares below and a little left of Saturn.

Moon near bright objects at dawn: The Full Moon appears closely upper left of Aldebaran low in WNW at dawn on Dec. 6. A waning gibbous Moon appears between Procyon and Pollux on Dec. 9; near Jupiter on Dec. 11 and 12; near Regulus on Dec. 12. A waning crescent Moon appears near Spica on Dec. 16 and 17; closely upper right of Saturn on Dec. 19; to lower left of Saturn and upper left of Antares on Dec. 20.

dec201410-13_19-20

Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11. http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/Index.html

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.