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Skywatch for the week of December 9 , 2019

Tue Dec 10, 2019 BRIGHT STARS OF LATE AUTUMN Three of the brightest stars in our sky tonight are actually planets. Jupiter dominated our southwestern sky after sunset the last couple of months, but now it’s very close to the horizon and will soon be lost to view. Taking its place is brilliant Venus, and over the next couple of nights you’ll find it very near the planet Saturn, passing it on its eastward trek across the heavens. In the west are three real stars -- Vega, Altair and Deneb - which form the Summer Triangle. To the north is the constellation Cassiopeia, while high overhead are the four stars that outline the Great Square of Pegasus. Now face northeast and find the bright yellow star Capella, in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. To its right is the red-tinged star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus; while rising out of the east are the stars Rigel and Betelgeuse, plus the three stars in a row which mark the belt of Orion the Hunter.
Wed Dec 11, 2019 DECEMBER FULL MOON For the next few nights the Geminid meteor shower will send us “shooting stars,” which seem to come out of the constellation Gemini. Under clear, dark skies the Geminids produce a few dozen meteors each hour. Unfortunately, the moon is also full the next couple of nights, and its bright light will interfere with the view. December’s full moon has many names. The Creek and the Seminole Indians call this the Big Winter Moon, so named because winter begin ten days from now. To the Algonquin Indians and to colonial settlers, this is the Long Night Moon, another reference to the beginning of winter, when days are shortest and nights are longest. The Sioux call this the Moon of Popping Trees, perhaps because the cold air freezes water, causing the trees to crack and pop. But for tonight, we’ll call it, “Can’t see the meteors” moon.
Thu Dec 12, 2019 GEMINID METEORS For the next couple of nights, the Geminid meteor shower will be sending us “shooting stars,” which seem to come out of the constellation Gemini. Under clear, dark skies the Geminids usually produce a few dozen meteors each hour. Unfortunately, this year, the moon is just past full, making it difficult to see all but the brightest fireballs in the Geminid shower. So for the next few nights, you may want to watch for the Geminids during the early hours of the evening, until the moon rises and spoils the view. And of course, if it’s cloudy, you won’t be able to see the meteors at all. But if it’s clear, then find a place that’s away from house and street lights, protect yourself against mosquitoes, dress warmly, take a lounge chair that leans all the way back, and face toward the east. The top of the sky should be about the best area to watch. You won’t need a telescope or binoculars, in fact such things would limit your view.
Fri Dec 13, 2019 STAR OF WONDER 2 Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will feature its twenty-seventh annual presentation of the holiday show, "Star of Wonder". In this program, we use the planetarium to take you back in time and show you what the skies looked like from Judea over 2000 years ago. We're especially interested in trying to discover the identity of the star of the Magi, the object referred to in the gospel of Saint Matthew. What kind of a star, or star-like object, could have guided the Wise Men – probably Babylonian skywatchers - on their journey westward across 600 miles of desert and mountains until their arrival in Bethlehem, possibly in 2 or 1 BC? Many natural phenomena, such as comets, meteors, and planets have been suggested as good candidates for “the star”. To get tickets or for more information about "Star of Wonder," call the IRSC Box office at 462-4750, between 11 am and 3 pm today.