What a rush! With the big feast behind us, we move into the last month of 2014. Once again the clouds filled the night sky at the Hill for the monthly November event. There were several nights last month the night sky was filled with clouds and not stars. As the year comes to a close, we can look forward as winter begins on December 21. The earth still moves and when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the sun.
We are starting this month with too many nights and days that have overcast skies! At least we may get some rain from this. I am sure there will be several clear nights this month, to see your favorite constellation!
Mission 42/43 to the ISS began on November 23rd. The Orion Test Launch was scrubbed December 4th. Rescheduled for Friday December 5, Good Luck Orion!
There may be a comet sighting around Christmas: A small telescope is all you need to see Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2). Discovered just a few months ago by Terry Lovejoy in Australia, the green comet is brightening to naked-eye visibility as it moves into northern skies this holiday season.
It is brightening faster than experts predicted. Originally the comet was supposed to reach naked-eye visibility in January or February 2015. It may be crossing that threshold now. Reports from the southern hemisphere put the brightness of the comet at magnitude +6.0, similar to the dimmest stars the human eye can see. On the nights around Christmas, "Comet Q2," as some are calling it, will glide just south of Sirius, the Dog Star. These finder charts from Sky and Telescope can help you find it. Better yet, if that cylindrical object is a GOTO telescope, just plug in the comet's coordinates.
Our winter solstice, December 21 @ 5:03 am CST is the darkest day of the year when the Sun reaches its most southern point in the sky at local noon. After this date, the days start getting "longer," i.e., the amount of daylight begins to increase.
Winter inspires both joy and woe. Some people can't wait for the cooler weather, snow, skiing and ice skating, curling up by a fire, and the holiday spirit. Other people dislike the frigid temperatures, blizzards, and wild weather.
The word solstice comes from the Latin words for "sun" and "to stand still.” In the Northern Hemisphere, as summer advances to winter, the points on the horizon where the Sun rises and sets advance southward each day; the high point in the Sun’s daily path across the sky, which occurs at local noon, also moves southward each day. At the winter solstice, the Sun’s path has reached its southernmost position. The next day, the path will advance northward. However, a few days before and after the winter solstice, the change is so slight that the Sun’s path seems to stay the same, or stand still. The Sun is directly overhead at "high-noon" on Winter Solstice at the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. In the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice days are the days with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year.
Our Sun is directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere during the December solstice.
The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the sun.