Comet ISON: Sizzle or Fizzle?
On November 28 (Thanksgiving Day) Comet ISON whipped around the Sun at a blistering 845,000 miles per hour! If the comet brightens substantially after its close encounter with the Sun, it might be worth looking for in the predawn sky in early December, but that's a big “might”. We’ll know by December 1st whether sungrazing Comet ISON will sizzle as a spectacular sky show or fizzle on its way out of the solar system.
Keep track of the latest Comet ISON news on our ISON web page. You’ll find photos and plenty of links to help you learn more about comets.
Ignoring the Comet Hoopla
Regardless of what the comet does, there is still plenty to see in the night sky. Of course, the easiest object to enjoy is Earth’s own Moon. Observe from night to night as its position changes against the background stars and how the phase changes from crescent to full to new.
About 45 minutes before sunrise on December 1, keen observers might be able to find the thin crescent Moon about 10 degrees above the eastern horizon. This ultra slim Moon will look best through binoculars.
Once you have found the Moon, try spotting Saturn just above and slightly left of the Moon and Mercury just below the Moon and a little farther left than Saturn.
If you are out at night from December 13 through 15, there is a chance you might see a shooting star. You are welcome to make a wish, but remember it’s not really a star. That brief streak of light is a meteor, created as a speck of space dust burns up as it speeds through Earth’s atmosphere.
December 14 is the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the two best of the year. Unfortunately, this year there will be a nearly full Moon up most of the night lighting up the sky and washing out all but the brightest meteors. Still, it’s always good to look up so you can make a wish when the chance presents itself.
Most of the space dust particles the Earth encounters during meteor showers were left behind by comets.
On the evening of December 18, the Moon will appear near brilliant Jupiter within the constellation of Gemini the twins.
On December 21, winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere when the solstice occurs at 11:11 am CST. At the same time, summer begins in the southern hemisphere.
Between midnight and dawn on December 26, Mars will be a bright orange point of light near the Moon. Spica, the brightest star in Virgo the maiden, will lie opposite Mars relative to the Moon. By the following morning, December 27, the Moon will have changed position to sit below Spica in the eastern sky.
And if you missed Saturn near the Moon at the beginning of the month, a pretty crescent moon will again be above Saturn before dawn on December 28 and below Saturn on December 29. Warm coffee or hot chocolate may make this frosty experience a little more bearable.
Star Parties Can be C-c-c-cold
‘Tis the season for stargazing on a clear, dark, moonless night. Bundle up in plenty of layers, bring along some hot chocolate, and join us to enjoy the sky while looking through telescopes at a FREE public star party.
The next two free public star parties each run from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The first is Saturday, December 7, at the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. The second is on January 4 on the Special Events Field at Edwin Warner Park.
Members of the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society (BSAS) will set up their telescopes to provide views of the Moon, Jupiter, the Pleiades star cluster, and more.
Star parties are weather dependent and may be cancelled for cloudy weather. Check the planetarium web site before traveling, especially if the skies are ‘iffy’. You’ll also find star party tips and a calendar of future events.
Now Showing in the Sudekum Planetarium
Travel back 80 million years to a time when dinosaurs ruled the land, and less familiar creatures roamed the ancient seas. Bones unearthed by paleontologists tell a story about life with some of the most fearsome predators to inhabit Earth’s oceans.
To win the Google Lunar XPrize, a team must land a robotic craft on the Moon, navigate 500 meters across its surface, and send data back to Earth. This show examines what the missions of the 1960s and 70s revealed about our neighbor, introduces some of the teams competing for the prize, and presents one possible scenario for our future on the Moon. Learn more about the Google Lunar XPrize at googlelunarxprize.org.
Get in the spirit with a fun, family laser show featuring brilliant animation and thousands of stars performing to the music of Lonnie Anderson, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Randy Travis, Smashing Pumpkins, and others in a fanciful celebration of the winter season.