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Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (French, 1827–1895), ‘The November Meteors’, plate XII from ‘The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual,’ 1882. Color lithograph on paper, 28 × 21 in. (image). Chapin Library of Rare Books, Williams College. Image courtesy Clark Art Institute

EYES TO THE SKY: Solstice lights: Paired planets, shooting stars, Full Long Night Moon

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By Monday, Dec 10, 2018 Learning 3

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.

On the expected peak night of the Geminids, the moon will be close to Mars on the sky’s dome. Mars’ setting at late night preludes the Geminid’s most prolific display of streaking meteors. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

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.

Mercury and Jupiter are in conjunction on Dec. 21, 2018. Binoculars may be helpful for finding Mercury next to Jupiter. Image courtesy EarthSky.org

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.


Ask An Astronomer – http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/

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

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Judith Lerner says:

    Oh! How delightful! Even in the middle of a sunny December day! I am hoping the skies will be clear enough between tonight, December 10, and the 23rd to see planets and meteors. And that the air and wind allow us human viewers warmth enough to stay and observe these celestial occurences. Thank you, Judy, for continuing to give me events to look forward to.

    1. Judith Lerner says:

      On Thursday morning, December 20, a cloudless pre-dawn, I went out at about 6am and — lo! — I did see Mercury and Venus (which was sooooo big it looked like a gigantic, irregular hole punched int the dark sky). I’m not sure whether I saw Jupiter as well. Above, directly above Mercury, was another tiny dot of light, both just above the southeast horizon and tree line. There was a good distance between the two Mercury/Jupiter dots.

      What was I seeing?

  2. Judy Isacoff says:

    Yes, Venus is dazzling!
    On the 20th, we observed brighter Jupiter BELOW dimmer Mercury. This morning, the 23rd, Jupiter had climbed above faint Mercury, which was located to the left of Jupiter.
    More reflections on the changing celestial relationships in tomorrow’s new “Eyes to the Sky.”
    Let’s keep looking together!

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