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The first several mornings of the New Year 2019 feature the waning crescent moon and three morning planets. You may need binoculars to catch Mercury. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

EYES TO THE SKY: Reach for extraterrestrial holiday lights on darkest, latest mornings

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By Monday, Dec 24, 2018 Learning 2

December 24, 2018 – January 6, 2019

Mount Washington — The dark of night extends into morning most noticeably from today through mid-January: In our neighborhood, the Sun rises around 7:20 a.m. December ends with a few later sunrises, 7:22 a.m., from the 29th through the 31st. Now is the ideal time to observe planet Venus, the Morning Star, shining brightly high in the southeast at 7 a.m. During the whole period of this post, civil twilight begins just half an hour before sun-up. For a worthy challenge, look above Venus with a steady gaze to find the golden point of light that is the star Arcturus. Then, search for Jupiter below the Morning Star, on a shallow, left slanting diagonal. From Sunday, the 30th, through Jan. 4, a winsome crescent moon joins the bright planets in the soft blue dawn.

Sirius climbs to its highest point in the sky at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

Add many more celestial delights to this waking dream by observing earlier, between 45 minutes and an hour before sunrise, from a lookout with an unobstructed view to the southeast horizon. Below and left of Jupiter, relatively faint planet Mercury twinkles close above the skyline while, to the right of Mercury, red star Antares, also pale in the dawn light, rises into the winter morning sky. The threesome form a right-angled triangle. My heart stirs at the sight of Antares, the heart star of Scorpius the Scorpion. The great Scorpion of balmy summer evenings has appeared in the chill morning. Consider that the Scorpion, a feared arachnid, has a heart, a red giant star at its heart! Binoculars will help locate Mercury and Antares.

Night of Jan. 3 and before dawn of Jan. 4. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

There is magic in the movement of Sirius, the Dog Star, on New Year’s Eve. The brightest star in northern skies and hallmark of the winter season, Sirius marks the shoulder of Canis Major, the Greater Dog, which is visible trailing Orion the Hunter most of the night. The brilliant star rises in the east-southeast around 7 p.m. and sets in the southwest around 5 a.m. At midnight (or thereabouts) on New Year’s Eve, Sirius reaches culmination: the highest point in the arc it traces between rising and setting. The star appears about 30 degrees above the horizon, due south.

Another occasion to ring in the New Year comes with the Quadrantid meteor shower, predicted to peak Thursday night, Jan. 3, until dawn on Friday the 4th. For details go to https://earthsky.org/?p=155137.

Welcome winter with open eyes, eyes to the sky, night and day.


Quadrantid meteor shower – https://earthsky.org/?p=155137

Scorpion Anatomy – http://www.biologydiscussion.com/invertebrate-zoology/scorpion/scorpion-habitat-sense-organs-and-development/27446

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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Judith Lerner says:

    We have so many cloudy evenings and mornings. I ran out at 6:30 this morning, Monday, December 31, to catch whatever I could of the crescent moon, (did I see Arcturus to the north/center of the sky directly above the point of the moon’s crescent?), Venus and Jupiter. The incessant dark low clouds hugged the horizon so I did not see anymore points of light. No Mercury. No Antares. Sigh. The next night or two will be snowy/rainy…

    Thank you, Judy, for pointing me the way to view the heavens.

    1. Judy Isacoff says:

      You bring “Eyes to the Sky” to life, Judith. Here’s confirming your view of Arcturus: always golden-orange in color and in the vicinity of the Big Dipper. An hour before sunrise, look up above Arcturus where the curve of the Dipper’s handle will lead you to its cup. Then, retrace down the arc of the Dipper’s handle to “Arc to Arcturus.”

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