Our Sun sets in the southwest at around 4:20 in the afternoon. When twilight gathers, golden Capella, the fourth brightest star in northern skies, commands our attention above the northeastern horizon. Capella, from the Latin for ‘she-goat’, is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga The Charioteer. At nightfall four lesser stars appear, shaping a pentagon that represents the chariot and charioteer. On the upper right of the pattern a cluster of dimmer stars, sometimes called ‘the kids’, are rendered in artwork as a kid or many kid goats held under the arm of the charioteer.
Aldebaran, the ninth brightest star in our skies, appears to the right of Capella, east, closer to the horizon at nightfall. Known as the eye of Taurus the Bull, Aldebaran is distinctly orange. Taurus’ lesser stars shape the triangular head of The Bull. Capella and Aldebaran are visible all night even in urban, light polluted skies. But even in dark sky locations look for their constellation of lesser stars before December 1, when the light of the waxing gibbous moon shines nearby.
The largest full moon of 2017, a Perigean Full Moon, popularly known as a supermoon, occurs on Sunday the 3rd of December. Perigee, when the moon is closest to Earth, occurs less than a day later. Treat yourself to a viewing of the Full Long Night Moon both when it is setting in the west on Sunday morning and again when it returns as a rising moon in the east in the early evening. Morning moonset on the 3rd is 6:40am; be at your viewing location about 40 minutes before that, depending on your horizon. Also, Aldebaran follows very close to the top left of the moon in the pre-dawn sky. Sunday evening moonrise occurs in the east-northeast at 4:53pm. Depending on your vantage point, moonrise could be later.
Astronomical twilight, the measure of darkness at which night begins, is within minutes of 6 o’clock through most of December. The earliest sunsets of the year, 4:21pm, are from Wednesday the 6th through Tuesday the 12th. Sunsets are farthest south of west for the year.
If you are adding window lights for the holidays, please connect them to a timer – or be diligent about extinguishing them before bedtime – so that the eyes of nighttime and early morning stargazers may stay acclimated to the dark. Urge heads of each household, business and public venue in your neighborhood to join the effort to minimize lighting the outdoors. Collectively we can decrease light pollution and its ill affects on all life.
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