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EYES TO THE SKY: Winter Solstice: Sightseeing beyond the Milky Way

"The cosmos, for me, is a vast space to explore for both beauty and science. The beauty is self-evident…. The science is important to help understand the place humankind has in the universe and even in daily life." -- Astrophotographer Kent DeGroff
December 17 through December 28, 2014

Winter solstice celebrations, whether The Festival of Lights, Christmas or other cultural observances and parties, have evolved to mark this time when the northern hemisphere is tilted furthest from the sun. The moment of the winter solstice occurs at 6:03 p.m. on Sunday, December 21st. In our locale, the longest nights, shortest days of the year span from the 17th through the 27th. Until the end of the month, the sun seems to “stand still” (solstice is from the Latin solstitium: sol sun + stit stopped, stationary). Day length will be 9 hours 6 minutes; nighttime nearly 15 hours!

Observe sunrise at its southernmost reach on the eastern horizon and see the sun trace a shallow arc to its lowest noontime point in the sky, then set furthest southwest. Never look directly at the sun.

To revel in the solstice, let’s look into the darkness with astrophotographer Kent DeGroff whose image of the Silver Dollar Galaxy (NGC 253) appears above. This exquisite photograph of a “nearby” galaxy was captured from southwest New Mexico, a hotbed of astronomy initiatives due its atmospheric conditions, including dark skies away from light pollution. DeGroff affirms that with the naked eye, in dark sky regions, “It is possible to see some of the objects that astronomical photography shows so impressively, such as the Andromeda Galaxy. It doesn’t look like much, but you can see it — and the thought that the light from it left the galaxy 2.5 million years ago is food for contemplation.”

The Silver Dollar Galaxy, over 11 million light years away, is visible with the aid of binoculars in remote, dark sky areas of the Berkshires. In the early evening, look low in the southwest. Scan to the left of bright star Fomalhaut, which is to the left of reddish Mars.

Welcome the New Year with Kent DeGroff’s expansive vision: “The cosmos, for me, is a vast space to explore for both beauty and science. The beauty is self-evident…. The science is important to help understand the place humankind has in the universe and even in daily life.”

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.