This week, December’s Geminid shower is predicted to peak Thursday the 13th after 10pm into Friday the 14th before dawn, with 2am as optimum observing. For details about the Geminids, click here. To view the original Trouvelot lithograph in the exhibition, “Extreme Nature!”, at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, click here.
In our locale, the earliest sunsets of the year, 4:29pm, began last Friday, December 7, and continue through Monday the 16th. Day length today is 9 hours 20 minutes. The Winter Solstice occurs at 5:23pm on the 21st and, according my source, the shortest days of the year, 9 hours 15 minutes, are from the 19th through the 25th. The moment of Full Long Night Moon is 12:49pm on the 22nd.
In addition to the momentous astronomical events sketched above, I wish to offer you, an elixir that is being served every clear morning and keeps getting stronger: The ingredients arrive at peak effect on the 21st. Everyday, from about 3:30am until around 7am, gleaming planet Venus, aptly known as the Morning Star during its current 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 5:30am on the 10th and 5:45am on the 23rd.
The strength of the morning brew triples when planet Jupiter enters our field of vision below Mercury. Brighter than Mercury, Jupiter rises at 6:15am on the 10th, 5:38am 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 7:09am on the 10th, 7:17 on the 23rd. Notice that as Jupiter rises into view earlier, Mercury rises later each day; 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 December 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.
by Judy Isacoff
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