Starry Night® Times

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Welcome again to our monthly newsletter with features on exciting celestial events, product reviews, tips & tricks, and a monthly sky calendar. We hope you enjoy it!


'Tis the season to be jolly - why?

They started falling the moment I finished raking leaves in the back yard. Little frozen white stars. Snowflakes. For me, winter arrived this year on the fifth of November. For many folks, the first fall of snow signals the start of winter. But the calendar says otherwise. It says winter officially begins this year at precisely 7:22 p.m. EST on December 21. What’s with that?

The winter solstice, that’s what! It’s a celestial event tied to the yearly orbit of Earth around Sun, and it is a linchpin of our calendar. “Without the practical benefits that astronomy supplied, it might not have been possible to have civilization at all,” says Dr. E. C. Krupp in his book In Search of Ancient Astronomers. He goes on to explain that the calendar is, “the device that permits complex organization of a culture, the device that rules the exchange of goods and services.” This is a powerful statement, but the calendar is a powerful influence on peoples and cultures. And the calendar is driven by the sky, with its daily, monthly and yearly cycles.

The summer and winter solstices are key reference points in our calendar, marking the yearly extremes of the Sun’s changing height in the sky at noon. They serve as predictable markers for the swing of the seasons, neatly dividing the year into two equal halves. They bring a sense of order, place and continuity.

“Solstice” means literally “Sun stop.” It is the exact moment in the year when the Sun reaches either its greatest northerly or southerly point in its annual motion. From these two points it “turns around” and heads the other way. Let’s back up and explain things a bit.

The summer and winter solstices mark the respective maximum and minimum noontime heights of the Sun in the sky (Figures a and b).

The changing height of the noontime Sun through the year is a result of Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt on its spin axis. As Earth moves around its orbit, first one and then the other hemisphere tilt toward the Sun (Figures c and d). The hemisphere tipped toward the sun experiences summer; the days are blessed with long hours of sunlight and the noon Sun climbs high in the sky. The hemisphere tipped away from the Sun experiences winter, with fewer daylight hours and a Sun that rides low across the sky.

The Sun reaches its minimum noontime height on the winter solstice. This is the shortest day of the year with the least amount of sunlit hours. As such, it also means there’s nowhere to go but up! After the winter solstice, the Sun is a little higher every day at noon. Each successive day has more sunlight – clearly, we’re headed for spring! If that isn’t good cause for celebration, what is?

It’s no coincidence that Christmas and Yule celebrate the winter solstice. Ever since there have been people, there have been sky-watchers observing celestial cycles, noting special points in the year. The four chief markers are the two solstices and equinoxes. All over the world, people have marked and celebrated the solstices through time and across cultures. Many major festivals fall near these celestial events. Whether we realize it or not, our civilization is ordered around the happenings in the sky. With the winter solstice, we mark the beginning of the return to summer. It really is the season to be jolly!

Winter Solstice - December 21
Figure a

Summer Solstice - June 21
Figure b

The height of the noon Sun on the winter (a) and summer (b) solstices, as seen from 44 degrees north latitude. The actual height of the Sun above your local horizon depends on your latitude, but the total difference between the winter and summer height of the noon Sun, for all latitudes, is 47 degrees.

Summer Solstice - June 21
Figure c

Winter Solstice - December 21
Figure d

The seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth. In the northern hemisphere it is summer when c) the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun and it is winter when d) it is tilted away from the Sun. When it is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is winter in the southern hemisphere and vice versa.

All diagrams made with Starry Night® software.

Mary Lou Whitehorne

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Stocking Stuffers

It's getting to be the time of the year again when gifts are exchanged. Often people are puzzled about what to give the amateur astronomer in the family. Below is a compilation of items in the Orion wish book, I mean catalog, which I either own myself or wish I did. Some are specialized for certain types of telescopes, but most are useful to all.

This is my own personal selection of the most useful and fun accessories to enhance your viewing pleasure. Following my list of stocking stuffers is a list of special holiday packages that offer discounts on popular items.

Now, here's what you do. Print out this list, and mark on it in bright red marker the items you'd particularly like to receive. Then leave it somewhere casually around the house for others to find. Good luck!

$10 and under

$9.95 #17189
Atlas of the Sky DVD
Enjoy 2-1/2 hours of original movies featuring dramatic visualizations of astronomical objects and phenomena. Experts provide up-to-date info on specific objects and their origins. Movies include Many Moons, Solar Storm, Satellite Spotting, The Light Heavyweights, Messier Marathon, and many more.

$9.95 #04110
Star Target™ Planisphere
I got one of these with my first telescope nearly 50 years ago, and I'm still using it today. It's a simple device which lets you dial in the current date and time and shows you what stars are visible in the sky. Sure you have Starry Night® on your computer, but do you really want to take your computer out into the dewy night?

$9.95 #17228
Starry Night® Screen Saver
Starry Night® Screen Saver takes you on a tour of planets, galaxies and other space exotica. Hitch a ride on a comet as it streaks past amazingly realistic 3D planets. Hop off at Mars for the red dawn; experience Pluto's perpetual twilight. Speed into deep space to witness stars spark into life. Let the subtle sounds help you escape to the boundless possibilities of the universe. And don't forget that you can add your own photo album images or movies to the screen saver.

$9.95 #17208
Starry Night® Constellation Adventure
This is a kid-friendly introduction to the night sky. The kit includes all the tools your future astronaut needs to explore the universe all year 'round. Includes: A 48-page illustrated guide to the night sky, a fun Big Dipper Clock, a red LED stargazing flashlight, and adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars to decorate a room with.

$9.95 #17176
Eyes on Mars DVD
Join the adventure as the Rovers romp on the Red Planet. This exciting documentary focuses on the quest to fully understand the mysteries of Mars.

$9.95 #17169
Wheels on Mars DVD
Close encounters with the Rovers and the scientists who sent them. Top experts from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Cornell University share what the Rovers found and why it matters so deeply. A companion to the award-winning Eyes on Mars DVD.

$10 to $20

$14.95 #04150
DeepMap™ Folding Star Chart
Everyone needs a star map, and this is an inexpensive and very handy one to have. Stick it in your accessory case, and you'll never be at a loss for objects to look for and how to find them.

$16.95 up #04203
FlexiShield™ Dew Cap

For Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain owners only. That big corrector plate on the front of your scope is a magnet for dew. One of these dew caps will slow down the formation of dew, and yet takes up almost no space.

$17.95 #05755
RedBeam II™ LED Flashlite

Every astronomer needs a red flashlight to protect his night vision, and this is the nicest one I know. Hang it around your neck to light your footsteps in the dark, and you'll never lose it. The adjustable red LEDs throw a nice gentle glow on your charts, and the battery seems to last forever.

$20 to $30

$24.95 and up #05973
Deluxe Aluminum Accessory Cases

Ever get to your observing site and find you've forgotten something essential? Never again, if you keep everything in order in a solid accessory case. Get one bigger than you think you'll ever need: you'll soon fill it up!

$24.95 #14008
Hybrid .965"/1.25" Star Diagonal

For owners of small refractors with substandard eyepiece holders. Most "department store" refractors come with accessories 0.965" in diameter, rather than the standard 1.25". Replace the star diagonal with one of these, and you'll be able to use a wide variety of modern eyepieces and other accessories.

$24.95 #51315
Turn Left At Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis

One of my favorite books, which explains how to find over a hundred of the best objects in the sky.

$25.95 #05756
DualBeam™ LED Astro Flashlight

Just like the RedBeam™ flashlight above, but also has a pair of white LEDs for observing the Moon and hunting for lost screws in the grass.

$29.95 #20034
Beginning Stargazer's Toolkit
Four useful resources in one package: Star Target Planisphere; Discover the Stars observer's guide; Moon map; and RedBeam Mini LED Astro Flashlight.

$29.95 #07033
Precision Slow-Motion Adapter

This neat little device makes it much more pleasant to use a small telescope on a photo tripod by giving you slow motion control in both axes. Also useful when mounting a piggyback camera to a telescope.

$30 to $40

$32.95 #15178
Orion® Waist Case™ Accessory Holder

Keep your most used accessories close at hand at all times!

$34.95 #03515
DC Dew Zappers

For Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain owners only. For those damp nights when a dew shield isn't enough to keep the dew at bay.

$34.95 and up
Starry Night®
Complete Space & Astronomy Pack
Starry Night®
Enthusiast, Version 6.0
Starry Night®
Pro, Version 6.0
Starry Night®
Pro Plus, Version 6.0
This is my favorite planetarium program. It gives very realistic depictions of the sky, allows the printing of detailed charts, and allows fantastic animations. It also comes with many extras on DVD.

$39.95 and up #05935
Observer's Chair

If you're sitting down comfortably at the eyepiece of your telescope, you will see more detail in anything you observe.

$39.95 #03640
Collimating Eyepiece

For owners of Newtonian reflectors only. This is the essential tool for aligning your telescope's optics and getting the best performance out of your telescope.

$40 to $50

$42.95 and up #08732
Sirius™ Plössl Eyepieces

Sirius eyepieces are one of the best bargains out there: excellent quality at a very reasonable price. If your scope came with the usual 25 mm and 10mm eyepieces, I'd recommend adding either a 32 mm for wide field views or a 7.5 mm for higher magnification on the Moon, planets, globular clusters, and planetary nebulae.

$44.95 #59133
Atlas Of The Moon by Antonin Rükl

If you have any interest in our nearest neighbor, the Moon, this is the book to get. When the first edition went out of print, it was selling for as high as $300 on the used market! Detailed maps of the entire surface of the Moon, with all features clearly labeled.

$48.95 #05155
RockStable™ Anti-Vibration Pads

At first I was really dubious, but after trying these, I'm a believer. Put one of these “hockey pucks” under each leg of your telescope's tripod, and you'll see an amazing improvement in the steadiness of your views.

$49.95 and up

$49.95 and up #05595
V-Block™ Anti-Fringing Filter

For owners of achromatic refractors only. Even the finest achromatic refractors suffer from some residual chromatic aberration, which shows itself as a purple fringe around bright objects. This filter blocks the purple fringe without affecting other colors strongly, resulting in a cleaner, more contrasty image. Especially useful on the Moon and planets. Best mounted on your telescope's star diagonal.

$49.96 and up #07826
Motor drive
EQ-1M, EQ-2M and EQ-3M Electronic Drives
TrueTrack™ DC Drive Systems

For owners of telescopes on equatorial mounts. A motor drive for your telescope will enhance your enjoyment by providing automatic tracking of astronomical objects. I prefer these models with push-button hand paddles because of the greater control and comfort they offer in operation.

Special Holiday Software and Telescope Packages

$224.95 #24740
Starry Night® Enthusiast 6 with Starblast Astro Telescope
A perfect combination to inspire the natural inclination of youngsters to explore the sky.

$899.95 #24741
Starry Night® Pro 6 with SkyView Pro 120 w/Intelliscope Telescope
Perfect combination for exploring the planets.

$1299.95 #24743
Starry Night® Pro Plus 6 with SkyView Pro 8 GoTo Reflector Telescope
The ultimate package for the serious or committed amateur astronomer. Large optics and GoTo computer control will help you 'bag' thousands of celestial objects with ease.

Special Holiday Software Packages

$269.95 #24745
Starry Night® Pro 6 with BlueStar
Control your telescope from your computer wirelessly via BlueTooth. Experience the range and freedom of movement by eliminating the need for cables.

$609.95 #24744
Starry Night® Pro Plus 6 with MaxIm DL/CCD
For the astro imager, this package is it. The worlds most advanced planetarium program with the most powerful image taking and processing software available.

Have a happy holiday!

Geoff Gaherty
Geoff has been a life-long telescope addict, and is active in many areas of visual observation; he is a moderator of the Yahoo "Talking Telescopes" group.

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Dec 2006

Free Standard Shipping on Orders over $50
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Free Download

X Prize Cup Space Atlas

X Prize Cup Space Atlas

The Google Earth Space Atlas was put together in honor of the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup. The Space Atlas is a one-stop destination for all the Google Earth placemarks for anything space-related.


There are placemarks to space centers of many countries, launch sites, space museums, planetariums, moon trees, meteor impact craters, space shuttle landing sites, and more.

Pedro Braganca
Content Director,
Starry Night®


Free Download
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Tips & Tricks


If you hit the space bar during a pan (such as when centering on an object or flying to an object), the program immediately takes you directly to the object.

If something catches your eye and you want to stop the pan, press the Esc key.

Pedro Braganca
Content Director,
Starry Night®

Tips Tricks
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Sky Events

A guided video tour of celestial events visible in December 2006. Highlights include a meteor shower, a Christmas star, the elusive planet Mercury, and a close encounter between the Moon and a beautiful star cluster.

  • RSS Feed
  • YouTube
  • Google Video


Tips Tricks
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Sky Events

Full Moon:
Mon., Dec. 4
7:25 p.m. EST

Last Quarter:
Tue., Dec. 12
9:32 a.m. EST

New Moon:
Wed., Dec. 20
9:01 a.m. EST

First Quarter:
Wed., Dec. 27
9:48 a.m. EST

Sun., Dec. 03
Moon crosses the Pleiades

The near full Moon will skim just 0.6 degrees north of the Pleiades star cluster.

Sun., Dec. 10
Three planets and a star get together

Mercury, Venus, Mars and the star Beta Scorpii form a tight group in the southeastern dawn sky. In fact, you can fit them all within a 1 degree circle. Use binoculars or a telescope with low power for the best views.

Thurs., Dec. 13
Geminid meteors peak

The Geminid meteor shower is one of the two best annual meteor showers. This year the best time to look is between 9 p.m. on the night of December 13th until the Moon rises at around 2 a.m. on December 14th. No equipment is needed, just use your eyes and look in the direction of the constellation Gemini. Many Geminids appear yellowish in hue and bright fireballs are common.

Fact: Unlike most meteor showers which are caused by the trail of debris left behind by comets, the source of the Geminids is not a comet but an asteroid named Phaeton.

Thurs., Dec. 21
December Solstice
7:22 p.m. EST

Today the Sun reaches its greatest distance south of the celestial equator. In the Northern Hemisphere this marks the first day of winter; in the Southern Hemisphere it marks the first day of summer.

All times shown are U.S. Eastern Time.

Sky Events
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Buying a telescope

When you are ready to buy a telescope, purchase from a reputable company with excellent customer service.

Okay, we’re biased, but we think Orion® Telescopes and Binoculars will be your best and safest one-stop astronomy shopping center. They have legendary customer service and technical support, and a range of products from beginner to expert.

To make your choice easier, Orion® Telescopes and Binoculars has an online Product Selection Wizard that will ask you basic questions and provide you with a list of telescopes suitable for your particular needs.

Another option is to visit a telescope dealer in person. There are some great telescope stores out there, and if you find a good one close to you, it will be an excellent source of advice and equipment. Get in touch with your local Astronomy club for a recommendation.

Whatever you do, avoid buying a telescope from any store whose primary business is not astronomy. Avoid department stores, discount stores, nature stores, and the like. Also avoid online auction sites unless you really know what you're doing.

Good luck, happy shopping, and clear skies!

Starry Night® Team

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Try a pair of binoculars

Binoculars are one of the most useful tools in an amateur astronomer’s arsenal. They provide spectacular wide field views of the Milky Way and large deep sky objects like the Pleiades star cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Double Star Cluster in Perseus. For the telescopic observer, they are the exploration tools to use to plan the path through the stars when you are starhopping to a faint object. Never leave home without them!

The most useful binoculars are those with relatively low magnification, such as 7x50 and 10x50. The first number is the magnification; the second the diameter of the objectives in millimeters. These can be hand held by most people and, under a dark sky, can provide hours of observing enjoyment.

There are also larger binoculars which are more specialized instruments. These generally need to be mounted on a tripod to be steady enough for use. Binoculars as large as 25x100 (equivalent to two 4” refractors!) are now available at very reasonable prices.

Geoff Gaherty
Geoff has been a life-long telescope addict, and is active in many areas of visual observation; he is a moderator of the Yahoo "Talking Telescopes" group.

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Starry Night® Digital Downloads

Download the Universe to your desktop quickly and easily!

The new and improved Starry Night® Digital Download Version 6 is the best and fastest way to see spectacular celestial sights all year round.

No waiting in line and NO SHIPPING FEES!

Check out these five ALL-NEW Data Modules:


Already own Digital Download version 5?
Upgrade the Core Application for ONLY $10!

Upgrade from Digital Download Version 5 to Version 6, and the Data Modules you previously purchased will be automatically copied over to the new Digital Download Version 6 application.

For example, if you have previously purchased the SkyGuide Data Module, there’s no need to purchase the Version 6 SkyGuide Data Module. The Data Module will be automatically copied when you install he Digital Download Version 6 Core Application Upgrade.

Remember, you must have the Version 6 Core Application or the Version 6 Core Application Upgrade in order for the Version 6 Data Modules to work.

Upgrade for only $10 — then choose the data modules you want to add!


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Constellation in Focus: Cetus

Constellation Map: CetusLying far from the galactic plane (which contains so much obscuring matter) Cetus, representing the gates of the underworld, is home to many observable galaxies.

M77 is a 9th Magnitude spiral galaxy, one of the first recognized spiral galaxies, and the closest and brightest of Seyfert galaxies (their central regions having rather bright nuclei whose light output varies over time and atypical spectra with unusual emission lines).

NGC 936 a faint galaxy best viewed with averted vision.

NGC 246 a large and reasonably bright planetary nebula (the last breath of a dying star) with an irregular "surface texture".

While technically in the constellation Sculptor, NGC 253, the Sculptor Galaxy, is a remarkable spiral galaxy with an unusually high rate of star formation. It's the brightest member of the Sculptor group, a group of galaxies centered around the south galactic pole. A small telescope reveals a long bright haze intermingled with brighter regions and dark lanes. Due to its high surface brightness it takes magnification quite well.

Sean O'Dwyer
Starry Night® Times Editor

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Astrophoto of the Month

Astrophoto of the Month

November 08, 2006 Mercury Transit by Jeffrey M. Phillips

Details: Imaged with a Celestron NexImage through a generic short tube 80 (80mm f/5 achromat) using an Orion solar filter, piggybacked on a LX200 Classic. Approx. 350/500 frames stacked in Keith's Image Stacker, with final processing in Adobe Photoshop CS2.



We would like to invite all Starry Night® users to send their quality astronomy photographs to be considered for use in our monthly newsletter.

  • Featured submissions (best of month) will receive a prize of $75 USD.

Please read the following guidelines and see the submission e-mail address below.

  • Format: Digital images in either JPG, GIF or TIFF format.
  • Size: 700 pixels wide maximum.
  • File size should be less than 2 MB.
  • Include a caption: Your full name, location where photo was taken and any interesting details regarding your photo or how you took it. Please be brief.
  • Important notes: We may edit captions for clarity and brevity. We reserve the right to not use submissions. In submitting your image or images to Imaginova, you agree to allow us to publish them in all media -- on the Web or otherwise -- now and in the future. We'll credit you, of course. Most important, you'll have the satisfaction of sharing your experience with the world!
  • Send images, following the above guidelines, to (by sending an image you agree to the above terms, including Imaginova’s right to publish your photos). Please do not send .ZIP files as they will not reach us.

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Year in Space 2007 Calendar Free with purchase

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FREE Year in Space 2007 Calendar with Starry Night® Version 6 new purchases and upgrades is valid while supplies of the Year in 2007 Calendar last. To receive the Year in Space 2007 Calendar for free, you must ADD the FREE Year in Space 2007 Calendar from the "May we also suggest" section of your shopping cart before Checkout. Limit 1 calendar per 1 Starry Night version 6 order.

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