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Sky Report - December 2011

Venus & Jupiter Prominent in Early Evening, Earliest Sunset and Start of Winter   

Sky Sights all through December 2011: The very bright white-blue star Vega sparkles low in the Northwest. The bright golden star Capella is high in the Northeast. In early evening (8-9 p.m.), the bright star group Orion appears low the East. Orion's trademark is his belt of three stars in a row, matched in brightness and equally spaced. The bright planet Jupiter appears high in the South in mid evening, shining in eastern Aries. The brilliant planet Venus is stunning from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Southwest. The planets Mars and Saturn are most easily seen in the 6 a.m. sky with Mars in the South and Saturn in the Southeast.

Sky Sights in Early December 2011: The moon is prominent in the evening sky in early December. The moon appears half full (like a letter 'D') on December 1st among the stars of Aquarius. The moon will close to the very bright planet Jupiter on the evening of December 6th. The moon grows to full on the evening of December 10th, appearing between the golden star Capella (to the left) and the star group Orion (to tThe he right). On Thursday, December 8th, we have the earliest sunset of the year, the sun setting about 4:50 p.m. (Our latest sunrise was on the last day of Daylight Time, November 5th, when the sun rose about 7:40 a.m.)

Sky Sights in Mid December 2011: The moon lights up the late evening sky, spoiling the Geminid meteor in the early morning hours of December 14th. (You can still see the meteors streaking across the early morning sky, but the moonlight will lessen the contrast and beauty of the 'falling stars'.) The planet Mercury can be seen low in the southeastern dawn, rising more than an hour ahead of the sun, above the bright star Antares of the Scorpion. On the morning of December 17th, the moon appears near the planet Mars in the southeastern dawn. On December 18th, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn sky.

Sky Sights in Late December 2011: On December 20th, the moon appears below the planet Saturn in the southeastern dawn. On the morning of December 22nd and 23rd, the crescent moon will appear the planet Mercury low in the 6:45 a.m. southeastern dawn. Winter officially starts at 12:30 a.m. on December 22nd. At this time, the sun's direct rays reach farthest South along the tropic of Capricorn (latitude 23.5 degrees South). On this day, the sun will rise farthest South, have the lowest sky path and set farthest South. On the morning of December 22nd and 23rd, the crescent moon will appear the planet Mercury low in the 6:45 a.m. southeastern dawn. In mid day on Christmas Eve, the moon swings from the morning side (to the West) of the sun to the evening side (to the East) of the sun. On December 26th, a narrow crescent moon will appear to the right of the brilliant planet Venus in the 5:45 p.m. southwestern dusk. On December 27th, the moon will appear above Venus in the 6 p.m. dusk.

The Frostburg State Planetarium's December Program will be "Solstice Festivals and Holydays", covering the solstices and attendant festivities. Also featured is an informal tour of the early winter evening sky using our Planetarium projector. Our free public programs are only on Sundays at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on December 4th, 11th and 18th.(There will be no programs on December 25th.) These programs last about 50 minutes. The Planetarium is in Tawes 302, just off the front lobby that faces the Compton Science Center. Our programs change monthly. No reservations are needed, just come a little bit early as once programs start, it is difficult to seat visitors in a darkened planetarium.

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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