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Skywatch for the week of December 19, 2022

Skywatch Monday 12-19-2022.mp3

Mon Dec 19, 2022 ORION’S RETURN

The ancient constellation Orion the Hunter has returned to our evening skies. He rises out of the east around 8 o’clock tonight. In Robert Frost's "The Star Splitter," the poet begins by saying, "You know Orion always comes up sideways. Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains, And rising on his hands, he looks in on me Busy outdoors by lantern-light." Orion does come up sideways, first his left shoulder, the star Bellatrix, and the hunter's knee, the star Rigel; then three bright stars in a row which form his belt, followed by Betelgeuse in Orion's right shoulder, and finally his right leg, the star Saiph. When I was young, I saw Orion, looking just as he does now, as did my grandparents, and their grandparents, and so on back for thousands of years.

Skywatch Tuesday 12-20-2022.mp3


Winter begins in the earth’s northern hemisphere tomorrow, December 21st, at 4:48 PM, Eastern Standard Time. It's at this exact moment that the sun's rays fall most directly on the Tropic of Capricorn, twenty-three and a half degrees below the equator, where summer is beginning. For us in the northern hemisphere, today marks the shortest period of daylight, and also the longest night of the year. As our winter season begins, we will be treated to a meteor shower called the Ursids. Best views will be from midnight until dawn, but there will be some visible in the late evening too. Grab a reclining lounge chair, dress warmly, get away from bright streetlights and face east, and hope for clear, dark skies.

Skywatch Wednesday 12-21-2022.mp3


There’s a place in Ireland called Newgrange, but there isn’t anything new about it – in fact, it’s literally as old as the hills, being a hill itself. Five thousand years ago, the Irish built a giant earth mound, over an acre across, and surrounding it they set up great stones. Ancient tomb, ancient temple, Newgrange probably served both these functions. And like Stonehenge in England, Newgrange is astronomically aligned. For a few days before and after the winter solstice - the beginning of winter - sunlight travels through a roof box or window over the main doorway. The shaft of sunlight travels all the way down a long, narrow corridor, until it lights up a small chamber at the center of the mound. It happened long ago, and it happens now.

Skywatch Thursday 12-22-2022.mp3


In the year 1301, the artist Giotto saw a bright comet. Centuries later it would be called Halley’s comet, named for Edmond Halley, who calculated its regular return every 76 years. In 1305, Giotto painted a beautiful fresco called, “the Adoration of the Magi,” which can still be viewed in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. Above the Creche, Giotto painted Halley’s comet, portraying it as the nativity star. Could the comet have been the star? Astronomy is a science which is predictive in nature, and we’ve calculated that this comet was visible in the sky in the year 12 BC, but this is far too early for the comet to be considered as a good candidate for the Nativity Star. We will need to continue our search.

Skywatch Friday 12-23-2022.mp3

Fri Dec 23, 2022 THE MAGI

Who were the Magi? We think they were Babylonian astrologers who may have witnessed a triple conjunction, three separate passings of the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus, that took place between 3 and 2 BC. Jupiter wanders against the background of constellations over time, caused by the combined motions of Jupiter and the earth as they orbit the sun. Regulus, in the constellation Leo the Lion, was the signal star of the Babylonian king. Jupiter’s appearance near Regulus may have set the Magi on their course toward Bethlehem to seek out a new king. Tonight, Jupiter is a bright star-like object high in the southern sky at sunset. But there’s an even brighter star low in the southwest – it is the planet Venus, beside the crescent moon.