Planets Decorate the Full Long Nights Moon
Those of you fortunate stargazers who received a telescope for Christmas are in for a couple of an enchanting evenings the last week of December. The night sky over Waynedale will play host to a nearly full moon shining between and around two brilliant planets. Saturn and Jupiter will sit on either side of the moon for a couple of nights. These planets make wonderful destinations to practice your observing skills with the new telescope.
Saturn's rings are lustrous as they are currently tipped significantly toward earth. This allows the magnificent rings to be easily examined. Try to locate Cassini's Division, a dark "split" in the bright rings. As you gaze upon the rings keep in mind that they consist of billions of ice particles that orbit Saturn like miniature moons.
Jupiter also has a surprise waiting to amaze you .Set your telescope toward the 88,000-mile wide planet. You'll be able to watch the 4 biggest moons of Jupiter change their place in relationship to the planet as they orbit the gas giant. The moons will look like stars aligned on either side of the planet. If it is clear and you are set up in a dark sky location, you might even see the cloud bands of Jupiter.
On Friday, December 28th, look east an hour after sunset about 1/3 of the way up from the horizon to spot the beautiful planet Jupiter. The moon will appear nearly full, but that doesn't really happen until December 29th. Now look above the moon and to the east to locate Saturn. Just below Saturn is the red star of Aldebaran. This star marks the eye of Taurus the Bull.
The moon will be eclipsed during the overnight hours of December 29. Lunar eclipses occur when the full moon passes through the Earth's shadow. During this eclipse, the moon will plunge deeply into penumbra, the outer area of Earth's shadow. The southern part of the moon disk should appear noticeably darker at its deepest eclipse occurring at about 5:30 a.m. EST on Sunday morning December 30th.
The nearly full moon rises 20 minutes after sunset on Sunday, December 30th. Jupiter is a mere 6 degrees to its upper right. The bright stars Pollux and Castor of the Gemini Twins are 8 degrees to the left of the moon. Pollux and Castor themselves only sit 5 degrees apart so they will be easy to spot. Pollux is the lower star of the brothers.
If you have been blessed with a telescope under your Christmas tree, you've also been blessed by the heavens themselves. A magnificent scene awaits you adorned with the December " Full Longs Nights Moon " dancing among the planets and brilliant winter stars. Invite a few friends over and warm up the hot chocolate. Share the gift of the heavens and let it work it's magic upon those who like to gaze upon the stars.
Wishing all of you in the Waynedale area a spectacular 2002, clear, crisp evenings and happy stargazing!