EYES TO THE SKY: Solstice lights: Paired planets, shooting stars, Full Long Night MoonMore Info
Mount Washington — The delightful meteor shower image “The November Meteors” by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot would have been inspired by the annual Leonid meteor shower. This week December’s Geminid shower is predicted to peak Thursday the 13th after 10 p.m. into Friday the 14th before dawn, with 2 a.m. as optimum observing. For details about the Geminids, see “Resources,” below.* To view the original Trouvelot lithograph in the exhibition “Extreme Nature!” at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, refer to “Opportunity to Participate,” below. An informative statement related to the artwork is included.**
In our locale, the earliest sunsets of the year, 4:21 p.m., began last Thursday, Dec. 6, and continue through Wednesday the 12th. Day length today is nine hours 11 minutes. The Winter Solstice occurs at 5:23 p.m. on the 21st and, according to my source, the shortest day of the year, nine hours and five minutes, follows on the 22nd. The moment of Full Moon is 12:49 p.m. on the 22nd.
In addition to the momentous astronomical events sketched above, I wish to offer you, my readers, an elixir that is being served every clear morning and keeps getting stronger: The ingredients arrive at peak effect on the 21st. Every day from about 3:30 a.m. until around 7 a.m., gleaming planet Venus, aptly known as the Morning Star during this apparition, climbs from the east-southeast horizon to a commanding position in the southeastern sky. Gaze to this celestial beacon through dawn and until its light vanishes in the radiance of sunrise.
The potion is enriched by the light of planet Mercury, found below and slightly left of Venus. The little planet is pale compared to Venus and rises later, at about 5:30 a.m. on the 10th and 5:45 a.m. on the 23rd.
The strength of the brew triples when planet Jupiter enters our field of vision below Mercury. Brighter than Mercury, Jupiter rises at 6:15 a.m. on the 10th, 5:38 a.m. on the 23rd. Depending on your lookout to the southeast horizon, i.e. whether hills or buildings obstruct visibility, it may be several days before Jupiter climbs above the skyline well before sunrise. Sunrise is at 7:11 a.m. on the 10th, 7:19 on the 23rd. Notice that, as Jupiter rises into view earlier, Mercury rises later; Jupiter ascends as Mercury descends.
The climax of our morning observations of Venus, Mercury and Jupiter – our having imbibed each movement and ray of planetary light in the pre-dawn and dawn sky – arrives on the mornings of Dec. 21 and 22. Jupiter approaches close below Mercury on the 21st. On the 22nd, Jupiter and Mercury appear side by side. By the 23rd, Jupiter passes the little planet while Venus continues to shine from above.
Opportunity to Participate
**“Extreme Nature!” exhibition on view at the Clark Art Institute through Feb. 24, 2019 – https://www.clarkart.edu/Mini-Sites/Extreme-Nature/Exhibition
Étienne Léopold Trouvelot French, 1827–1895 The November Meteors, plate XII from The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual 1882. Color lithograph on paper.
Multicolored meteors rain down from the sky in this lithograph created from studies Étienne Léopold Trouvelot made at the Harvard College Observatory in November 1868. Not long before Trouvelot’s astronomical observations, many scientists believed that meteors, like lightning, developed in Earth’s atmosphere. The revelation of meteors’ extraterrestrial origins drew international attention, and encouraged scientists like Trouvelot—who first trained as a specialist in insect biology—to pursue astronomical training later in life. His deep knowledge of living systems perhaps unconsciously influenced many of his lithographic illustrations, like in his “Solar Protuberances” where the sun’s gaseous extensions mimic biomorphic forms of trees and other flora on Earth’s surface. Chapin Library, Williams College