November 24, 2013

What's Up in December: No keeping the sun down

After the solstice, the days will grow longer.

By Bernie Reim

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

SKY GUIDE: This chart represents the sky as it appears over Maine during December. The stars are shown as they appear at 9:30 p.m. early in December, at 8:30 p.m. at midmonth and at 7:30 p.m. at month’s end. Jupiter is shown in its midmonth position. To use the map, hold it vertically and turn it so that the direction you are facing is at the bottom.

Sky chart prepared by George Ayers

A Minotaur rocket was recently launched from Virginia, carrying a record number of 29 satellites into orbit. Twenty-eight of them were small cubesats, one of which was designed by high school students. Another one was only a little bigger, the size of a loaf of bread, but it has a huge mission. Named Firefly, it will study lightning to see if it can produce gamma rays. .

A Minotaur 5 rocket was launched from the same site on Sept. 7. It carried just one satellite – LADEE, which stands for Lunar Atmospheric and Dust Environment Explorer. One of the most exciting projects it is working on is using laser beams for communication, which is building the groundwork for an interplanetary internet.

Last month’s rare hybrid solar eclipse was an extremely dramatic event, even though it was cloudy in this area for the partial phase that we could have seen. The live feed from northern Kenya set up on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, which used to be the source of the Nile River.

This was a very symbolic and fitting place from which to watch this total solar eclipse, which always offers us a very brief glimpse into the great beauty and power of our life-giving sun. This place embodies the ancient origins of humans on our planet and now offers new energy for Africa since the largest wind project will soon be built on this lake. Earth’s great tectonic forces are splitting Africa apart along this location, even as the sun’s much greater forces are always in contact with Earth through the solar wind.

Watching this solar eclipse was a great lesson demonstrating basic laws of geometry, trigonometry, physics and math, and giving us a much better sense of the true nature of our 8,000-mile-wide Earth as it hurtles through the galaxy at enormous speeds, dragged along with our family of planets by the sun in a beautiful helical spiral path. The next one in this country will happen on Aug. 21, 2017.

Dec. 1: The slender waning crescent moon will be near Saturn, Mercury and Comet ISON this morning.

Dec. 2: New moon is at 7:22 p.m.

Dec. 5: Brilliant Venus will shine just to the left of the waxing crescent moon this evening.

Dec. 9: Jupiter will be very close to a bright star in Gemini named Delta Geminorum this evening. first quarter moon is at 10:12 a.m.

Dec. 13-14: The Geminid meteor shower this night into the morning of the 14th.

Dec. 15: Aldebaran in Taurus shines a few degrees to the lower right of the moon tonight.

Dec. 17: Full moon is at 4:28 a.m. This is also known as the Cold Moon or the Long-Night Moon.

Dec. 18: Jupiter will be near the just-past-full moon tonight.

Dec. 21: The winter solstice is at 12:11 p.m. EST.

Dec. 25: Sir Isaac Newton was born on this day in 1642.

Dec. 26: The waning crescent moon passes near Mars this morning and Spica in Virgo the mext morning.

Dec. 27-30: Mars shines within one degree of the double star in Virgo named Porrima over these mornings.

Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.

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