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Monthly Sky Report - December 2006

Getting Directions
To find the planets, bright stars and groups, you need to know the compass directions where you watch the sky. Lacking a compass, you can use the sun at the start, middle and end of the day. As you face the rising sun - it will be rising in the East Southeast. In mid day (around noon), look at your shadow which then points North. The sun will set in the West Southwest.

All Through December
During December, there is an average of 9.4 hours of sunlight each day. During December, the sunsets range from 4:51 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunrises change from 7:17 a.m. early in the month to 7:35 a.m. at month's end. Stars begin to fade away an hour before sunrise and the star groups come into view an hour after sunset. In the early evening, there are two very bright stars visible, golden Capella in the high in the Northeast and white-blue Vega low in the Northwest. Above and to the left of Vega is the Northern Cross, topped by the bright star Deneb. As the evening hours pass, the Northern Cross slowly drops toward the Northwestern horizon. In the East, you'll notice three stars in a row, the belt of Orion, the Hunter. To the left of the belt is pinkish Betelgeuse, marking one of Orion's shoulders. Orion's brightest star is white-blue Rigel to the right of the belt. Late in the evening, the bright planet Saturn can be seen low in the East, shining near Leo's sickle.

Sights for Early December
The evening moon is full on December 4th, rising before sunset and staying above the horizon for 15 hours. On the morning of December 10th, there is a close grouping of three planets low in the East Southeast at 6:40 a.m. Very close are the planets Mercury and very bright Jupiter. To the right of the close pair is the dull planet Mars. Mercury and Jupiter are less than half a moon width apart while Mars to the right is about two moon widths from the other two planets.

Sights for Mid December
In mid December, the moon rises after midnight and is best viewed at dawn. The early evening will then be great for viewing the bright winter stars, then low in the East and Southeast. In the East Southeast dawn, the planets Jupiter and Mercury pull apart with Mercury dropping out of view. The planet Venus begins to creep above the west southwestern dusk.

Sights for Late December
Winter officially begins on December 21st, the shortest day of the year. With a little luck, you may see the brilliant planet Venus and a very slender crescent moon very low in the 5:15 p.m. West Southwestern dusk on December 21st. On December 26th & 27th, the moon appears half full in the southwestern evening sky. As the year draws to a close on New Year's Eve, the moon appears near Aldebaran, the bright star marking the eye of Taurus.

Astronomy Activities
Planetarium Shows: Our December Planetarium presentation is "Skies Over the Holy Lands", shown on December 3rd, 10th and 17th at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Planetarium is in Tawes 302, near the middle of the Frostburg State campus.









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