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December Skies 2014

The longest nights of the year offer the greatest variety of stars and constellations.  Through the month, Orion rises earlier each evening, and dominates the eastern sky, often identified by his line of three “belt” stars.  Extending this line to the upper rights leads to the red star Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the Bull, while looking to the lower left, the brilliant star Sirius is rising.  Venus returns to the evening sky, best seen later in the month, low in the southwest.  Mars is fading, but still lingering a little higher in the southwestern twilight.  Jupiter begins to rise earlier in the evenings, before 10 o'clock to start, and before 8 by the end of the year.  Saturn returns to the sky in the early morning twilight, while Mercury hides in the Sun's glare.

22 –   The thinnest of Crescent Moons joins Venus this evening, very low in the southwest from about 4:30 to 4:45 PM EST, a challenge made a little easier with a pair of binoculars.   By tomorrow evening, the Moon's orbit will have lifted well above Venus, and this change will also show us a little more of the Moon's sunlit side – which means we see a little larger crescent. 

23 – The Ursid Meteor Shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night, a fairly minor event that perhaps launches some 10 meteors or shooting stars per hour, one almost every five minutes or so.  The very thin Crescent Moon will offer no interference in viewing.

24 –   You may not see the mythical “Christmas Star” this evening, but Christmas Eve offers a “smiling” Crescent Moon well to the right of planet named for the mythical god, Mars.  They can be found in the southwestern skies, starting near 4:45, and slowly settling toward the horizon by 7 o'clock.


 

Spaceweather.com

The latest information on the Rosetta Mission from ESA, solar activity, and the Aurora Borealis (northern lights).

Draco the Dragon and the northern sky (click on image for larger image in a new tab) 
Draco the Dragon

 

 

 

Astronomy Resources


Sky and Telescope’s safe eclipse viewing guide


You can view the partial eclipse safely and easily following the directions provided.

 

The Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity Rover

This is the home page for the Curiosity Rover.  Explore the site to find images, videos, and volumes of science information.

 

The Mars Exploration Program

This is the home page for all of the on-going missions to Mars.


 


The Mars page of the website Nine Planets

Nine Planets is a great website featuring information about each planet (and even though there are only eight “planets”, you’ll find information about nearly all of the moons, dwarf planets, and other small solar system bodies)

 

Sky & Telescope's Interactive Star Chart

You must register first (it's free) to use this on-line chart.  Follow the directions to get a chart that will show the sky for any location, at any time.  You can also create a .pdf file to view from your computer any time.

 

The Old Farmer's Almanac

 

Astronomy Picture of the Day


Each day brings a fascinating look at astronomy, and an explanation of what you are seeing.


Vermont Astronomical Society

The Vermont Astronomical Society (VAS) is a group of amateur astronomers that has been serving northern Vermont for over 45 years. Membership ranges from beginning naked-eye stargazers to advanced amateurs with home observatories and elaborate equipment.

 

 

NASA Science

This is the home of NASA, where science ranges from the Earth to the ends of the universe.  That means there's a lot to explore!  

SpaceWeather.com


News and information about the Earth-Sun environment, including astronomy events (eclipses, moon phenomena, asteroids, etc.), discoveries, and Northern Lights.  


Magazines:  

Sky & Telescope Magazine


 Astronomy Magazine

Books: There are thousands of books, and each has information that can be helpful.  You might collect a few before you find one that matches your taste and way of thinking about astronomy.  To help you get started, check with your local library or favorite book store for the following titles:  

The Stars by H. A. Rey

Rey, well known for writing and illustrating the "Curious George" books, wrote this wonderful introduction to the night sky in the 1950s, and it remains one of the best for a wide range of ages and interests.  

NightWatch by Terrence Dickinson

This ring-bound book leads the beginning star gazer through the heavens, rich in photographs, charts, and lots of practical information.  

Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Hinkley Allen 

For those who love the myths and origins of star names and constellations, this is a wonderful start.  Some of the interpretations have been challenged in recent years as others have looked into the subject, so it is not considered the final authority.  But it is still a wealth of ideas and information.  

Night Sky: A Guide to Field Identification (Golden Field Guides) by Mark R. Chartrand

This all around guide book shows you how to find the constellations, describes the nature of the heavens and the objects we see, and how to set up and use a telescope  

Exploring the Night Skies with Binoculars by David Chandler

This is must, because it gives such practical and realistic expectations about what you can see.   

Also of interest:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy by Christopher De Pree and Alan Axelrod

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

365 Starry Nights by Chet Raymo

The Sky: A User’s Guide by David Levy
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