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TOPIC: December 2009


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RE: December 2009
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Of course the eastern sky has something a little extra in store this weekend. Go outside around 9 p.m. and face east again. Find Orion the Hunter and Sirius. Then measure five fist-widths to the left of Sirius and look just a little closer to the horizon. You'll see two bright stars. That's Castor and Pollux, the head stars of Gemini the Twins.
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Bundle up and get ready to watch a fiery lightshow stirred up by dead comets in Earth's upper atmosphere during the cold of winter in the dead of night. The annual Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak mid-December. Considered one of the more reliable showers by those in the meteor-watching business, the Geminids almost always put on a great show.
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Today marks the earliest sunset of the year for mid-northern latitudes.

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The moon was full Wednesday night, but by this weekend it will be out of the early-evening sky - giving us a chance to try a really difficult observing challenge.
Achernar, a first-magnitude star, will skim along our southern horizon in the early evening.

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Astronomers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute point out that at 12:47 p.m. EST on Monday, Dec. 21 the sun will be at its most southern point in the sky for the year. This is the winter solstice and marks the first moment of winter.
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The December night sky holds many visual wonders. The night of Dec. 13-14 brings the peak of the Geminids meteor shower. The moon will be out of the way and peak activity will be soon after midnight. If the sky is clear there may be as many as 100 meteors per hour for those observing from a dark location. The radiant point will be high in the south in the area of the constellation Gemini, after which the shower is named.
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Catch a glimpse of Venus
The 'Morning star' will soon be too close to sun at dawn to be observed

If you haven't been up before sunrise recently, you will be surprised at how close Venus is to the horizon as the sun rises, and within the next week or two it will become too close to the sun to be observed. It will be at superior conjunction, right behind the sun, on Jan. 12, 2010. It will re-emerge from behind the sun in March as an "evening star."
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Geminids meteors to impress under moonless skies
Weather permitting, the coming month holds plenty of interest for stargazers. Not only is Orion, the centrepiece of our winter's sky, on view at a reasonable hour of the evening, but we have two conspicuous evening planets and probably the best meteor spectacle of the year.
There is even a lunar eclipse on Hogmanay.

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