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Happy holidays and 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!

   

Stocking Stuffers 2009

Ho ho ho! It’s getting to be that time of year again, when I get to play Santa and browse through the Orion catalog looking for goodies to put in some astronomer’s stocking. These are the little gizmos and gadgets which cost very little, yet make stargazing a more pleasant occupation. Remember, the rules of the game are to print out these pages, mark the things you’d like with a big red marker, and leave in some prominent location as a not-so-subtle hint to your loved ones. Everything on this list is either something I own myself, or wish I did!

$10 and under

$4.95 #07406
Winged Rubber Eyeguard

Is your neighbor’s porch light driving you crazy? Then you need this little rubber eyeguard to slip over your eyepiece so that you can shut out the outside world.

$3.95 #05833
Microfiber OptiCloth

Did Junior get fingerprints all over your Nagler? Time to get out the OptiCloth to soak up the oil and leave the lens sparkling clean!
$4.95 #05940
Observer's Eyepatch

Avast, me hearties! Is it Talk Like a Pirate Day? No, it’s look like a pirate: put this patch over your non-observing eye and enjoy the relaxed pleasure of observing with both eyes wide open.
$9.95 #05836
LensPen Mini Pro

But what about those short focal length eyepieces with tiny eye lenses? This miniature LensPen will let you get into the tiniest lenses and clean them up.

   

$10 to $20

$10.95 #51466
Sky & Telescope Field Map of the Moon

This is the nicest Moon map I’ve seen. It’s laminated and unfolds to a large diameter showing close to a thousand named features on the Moon, drawn by Antonín Rükl.
$14.95 up #07214
Dovetail Mounting Base

A while ago, a telescope designer got the bright idea of putting a dovetail base on the focuser of refractor telescopes to hold the finder scope. This creates practical difficulties, since it places the finder too low for viewing objects high overhead, and causes interference between the finder and the main telescope’s diagonal. It turns out that the old-time designers had the right idea where to place the finder on a refractor: about six inches up the telescope tube. Drill a couple of holes in your refractor’s tube, install one of these little brackets, and you’ll find your finder much easier to access!
$18.95 up #04203
FlexiShield Dew Caps

If you have a Maksutov- or Schmidt-Cassegrain, you probably also have dew. These flexible dew shields will keep your corrector plate dew-free for hours, as well as shielding you from stray light. They’re light weight and store in no space at all.
$16.95 #51501
Star Watch

My favorite guidebook for locating the Messier objects and much more.
$19.95 #04150
DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart

This is just about the handiest star map there is. It folds up and fits into your pocket like a road map, but is printed on durable plastic. It’s also a checklist of the finest 600 deep sky objects in the sky.

   

$20 to $30

$20.95 #52067
Mak-Cass Adapter Ring
for Schmidt-Cass Accessories

I’ve always been impressed by the build quality of Orion’s Maksutov-Cassegrains. This includes a beautifully machined threaded adapter on the rear of the scope, crying out to attach accessories to. However the thread on this port never mated with anything other than the supplied 1.25-inch visual back until now. This little gizmo screws onto the back of your Orion Mak-Cass and allows you to attach the full range of standard Schmidt-Cassegrain accessories, such as the 2-inch visual back just below. Neat!
$24.95 #05272
2" Visual Back
for Schmidt Cassegrain Telescopes

Tired of the narrow view of your Schmidt-Cassegrain? This is a real eye-opener, allowing you to use 2” diameter eyepieces and accessories.
$24.95 #59137
Celestial Sampler: 60 Small-Scope Tours

This is a collection of Sue French’s popular sky tours from Sky & Telescope. She strikes a nice balance between familiar showpieces and lesser known wonders.
$29.95 #05756
DualBeam LED Astro Flashlight

This is the handiest observing flashlight I’ve ever seen. It switches between two red LEDs to preserve your night vision, and two white LEDs for observing the Moon and finding the screw you dropped in the grass. It comes with a lanyard to hang it around your neck so you’ll never lose it.
$27.95 up #05973
Deluxe Accessory Cases

These cases protect your precious eyepieces, filters, and other accessories while also allowing you to organize everything so it’s easy to find things in the dark.

   

$30 to $40

$33.95 #20034
Beginning Stargazer's Toolkit

This kit has everything you need to get you started with a new telescope: a planisphere, a Moon map, a book on the constellations, and even a red LED flashlight!
$39.95 #07033
Precision Slow-Motion Adapter

This is an essential accessory for anyone who owns a Coronado Personal Solar Telescope. It allows you to mount the PST atop a camera tripod but still be able to track the Sun with great precision. It’s also a great aid for any small scope mounted on a camera tripod.
$36.95 #15178
Orion Waist Case Accessory Holder

Well, I got my Deluxe Accessory Case (see above) and filled it so full of stuff I could hardly lift it. I recently added one of these nifty Waist Cases, which weighs nothing and keeps essential eyepieces and filters right at hand (or hip).

   

$40 to $50

$46.95 #03640
Collimating Eyepiece

Many new owners of Newtonians buy laser collimators thinking they will solve all their collimation problems. Wrong! Every telescope first needs to be collimated with a sight tube and Cheshire eyepiece before a laser can be used. This beautifully machined device contains both essential collimation tools in one piece.
$45.95 up #08739
Sirius Plössl Eyepieces

Everybody can use another eyepiece, right? Most scopes come with a 25 mm and a 10 mm, but you will soon want the wider fields of view provided by a 32 mm or the lunar and planetary close-ups of a 7.5 mm or 6.3 mm. Or maybe something in between…
$49.95 #51626
Backyard Astronomer's Guide, Third Edition

Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, J. B. Sidgwick’s books were the amateur astronomer’s bible. Well, now it’s the 21st century and the “new testament” is Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer’s wonderfully illustrated guide to everything an amateur astronomer needs to know. This is probably the most used book on my bookshelf.
$49.95 #24685
Binocular Stargazing Kit

I’m often asked what telescope to recommend for a child. If the child is under 10, I usually recommend a small binocular instead, remembering what fun I had with my father’s binoculars at that age. This nice little 7x35 binocular comes with a star finder, a copy of Starry Night, and a cool red flashlight. What more could a kid ask for?
$49.95 #17237
Starry Night Complete Space & Astronomy Pack

This is the basic user-friendly version of Starry Night, my favorite planetarium software. Besides its beautiful depiction of the night sky, it gives you a huge number of guided tours to teach you about the universe, and even includes a bonus DVD with all sorts of nifty astronomical presentations. Perfect for somebody just getting started in astronomy.

   

So those are my choices for the 2009 holiday season. I hope you receive the ones you want, and have lots of astronomical joy in 2010!

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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Major Celestial Events for 2010

So, the Boss tells me he wants an article on the major celestial events for 2010, but the latest edition of the astronomer’s bible, the RASC Observer’s Handbook, hasn’t arrived in my mailbox yet. What to do? What to do?

Then, an inspiration strikes! Starry Night now has an event generator built into it, which will predict astronomical events for a given period. I fire up my copy of Starry Night and set the location to London, England, since I want the dates to be in Universal Time. I set the dates to range from 1/1/2010 to 12/31/2010, ask for planetary events and lunar and solar eclipse events, and click the “Find Events” button. Seconds later a list appears. I click the “Export” button and get something like this (with a bit of formatting):

Starry Night generated events
from 1/1/2010 until 12/31/2010

Name Start Date Start Time End Time
Mercury Inferior Conjunction 1/4/2010 7:04 PM
Venus Superior Conjunction 1/11/2010 8:26 PM
Annular Solar Eclipse 1/15/2010 4:05 AM 10:08 AM
Mercury Greatest Western Elongation 1/27/2010 9:45 AM
Mars Opposition 1/29/2010 7:29 PM
Neptune Conjunction 2/14/2010 11:15 PM
Jupiter Conjunction 2/28/2010 10:33 AM
Mercury Superior Conjunction 3/14/2010 1:08 PM
Uranus Conjunction 3/17/2010 6:42 AM
Saturn Opposition 3/22/2010 12:20 AM
Pluto Western Quadrature 3/26/2010 3:30 AM
Mercury Greatest Eastern Elongation 4/8/2010 6:09 PM
Mercury Inferior Conjunction 4/28/2010 4:47 PM
Mars Eastern Quadrature 5/4/2010 12:39 PM
Neptune Western Quadrature 5/19/2010 5:59 PM
Mercury Greatest Western Elongation 5/26/2010 1:40 AM
Saturn Eastern Quadrature 6/19/2010 12:58 PM
Uranus Western Quadrature 6/22/2010 12:13 AM
Jupiter Western Quadrature 6/23/2010 1:00 PM
Pluto Opposition 6/25/2010 6:29 PM
Partial Lunar Eclipse 6/26/2010 8:59 AM 2:19 PM
Mercury Superior Conjunction 6/28/2010 12:01 PM
Total Solar Eclipse 7/11/2010 5:10 PM 9:58 PM
Mercury Greatest Eastern Elongation 8/6/2010 6:58 PM
Venus Greatest Eastern Elongation 8/18/2010 7:44 PM
Neptune Opposition 8/20/2010 9:39 AM
Mercury Greatest Western Elongation 9/19/2010 3:56 PM
Jupiter Opposition 9/21/2010 11:11 AM
Uranus Opposition 9/21/2010 4:33 PM
Pluto Eastern Quadrature 9/26/2010 12:09 AM
Saturn Conjunction 10/1/2010 12:35 AM
Mercury Superior Conjunction 10/17/2010 12:53 AM
Venus Inferior Conjunction 10/29/2010 1:11 AM
Neptune Eastern Quadrature 11/18/2010 9:35 AM
Mercury Greatest Eastern Elongation 12/1/2010 6:22 PM
Jupiter Eastern Quadrature 12/16/2010 9:33 PM
Uranus Eastern Quadrature 12/18/2010 6:48 PM
Mercury Inferior Conjunction 12/20/2010 1:19 AM
Total Lunar Eclipse 12/21/2010 5:30 AM 11:04 AM
Pluto Conjunction 12/27/2010 1:02 AM

I’ve put the interesting events in bold, and colored the eclipses in bold purple.

From this table, it’s easy to pull out the major astronomical events of 2010. It’s then a matter of fleshing out the bones, again using Starry Night, with a little help from the internet eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2010.html

Eclipses

There will be four eclipses in 2010, two solar and two lunar.

The annular solar eclipse on January 15 will be visible in central Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia. A partial eclipse will be visible over a much larger area of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The path of the total solar eclipse on July 11 is almost entirely over water: the south Pacific Ocean. The only land it touches is one of the Cook Islands, Easter Island, and the west coast of Chile and Argentina.

The partial lunar eclipse on June 26 will be better than some of the ones we had in 2009, with the Moon about half in the Earth’s dark umbral shadow. This eclipse will be visible over the Pacific Ocean and much of North America, but not eastern Canada and New England.

The really good news is the total lunar eclipse on December 21. This will be well placed for observers all over North America, the first good lunar eclipse we’ve had in quite a while.

Planets

Mercury is never far from the Sun, but makes short appearances both east (in the evening) and west (in the morning) of the Sun:

Western elongation
Morning sky

January 27
May 26
September 19

Eastern elongation
Evening sky

April 8
August 6
December 1

I’ve marked in bold the most favorable apparitions for observers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Venus begins the year on the far side of the Sun, superior conjunction being on January 11. It then becomes an “evening star” gradually increasing in brightness and distance from the Sun in the sky, until it reaches greatest eastern elongation on August 18. Then it moves in front of the Sun, reaching inferior conjunction on October 29, becoming once again a “morning star.”

Mars is in opposition in Cancer on January 29, but is actually closest to Earth two days before that. This is what is known as an aphelic opposition, because Mars is almost at its farthest distance from the Sun, aphelion. As a result, Mars will appear very small and relatively dim, as compared to its last perihelic opposition in August 2003.

Jupiter is in opposition on September 21, located in Pisces. It is close to the celestial equator, so will be well seen by observers in both hemispheres.

Saturn will be in opposition on March 22, located in Virgo. The good news for people who tried to get their first view of the rings in 2009 is that the rings will be visible again, having completed their vanishing act. They will still be quite narrow, but once again Saturn will be a magnificent sight in small telescopes.

Uranus reaches opposition just five hours after Jupiter on September 21. They will make a nice pair in a wide-field telescope eyepiece for a few weeks around that date.

Neptune is in opposition on August 20. It is located on the border between Capricornus and Aquarius, and spends time in both constellations in 2010.

So that’s what Starry Night told me about the events to come in 2010. I hope the Boss will be pleased!

Geoff Gaherty

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Tube or Truss?

Some things you have no choice about unless you want to land in the poorhouse: your large telescope will almost certainly be a Newtonian reflector on a Dobsonian mount. Other types of telescopes are simply too expensive for the average amateur astronomer.

Probably the most important decision is how your telescope’s tube should be made. There are two main options: a solid cylindrical tube or a framework tube made of angled trusses. Both designs are equal in stability; the important difference is in portability.

For a number of years, my main telescope was a 10-inch Newtonian on a Dobsonian mount with a tube made of Sonotube (cardboard) exactly 45 inches long. This dimension was important because, before I bought the telescope, I had measured my Toyota wagon carefully and 45 inches was the longest tube that would fit crosswise in the cargo space. All the other Dobs I measured had slightly longer tubes. This was a perfect fit, and I transported and used it happily for several years.

Then we bought a larger car, a Volkswagen Passat wagon. “No problem!” I thought, until I discovered that, even though the new car was larger on the outside, the cargo space was slightly narrower. The 10-inch tube would fit only if loaded diagonally, leaving only two smallish triangular spaces into which very little would fit. This was when I started to consider a truss tube Dobsonian.

The “tube” of a truss Dob is in three parts. Let’s look at the new Orion SkyQuest XX14i IntelliScope Truss Dobsonian.

The bottom tube section, sometimes called the mirror box, carries the primary mirror in its cell and carries the two large altitude bearings:

The top tube section, sometimes called the upper tube assembly or UTA, carries the secondary support, the secondary mirror, the focuser, and the finder:

Joining the two are four pairs of trusses:

The trusses bolt onto the bottom tube section, forming the skeleton of the tube, and then the top tube section bolts onto the trusses, forming a rigid structure.

The importance of all this is that the tube, measuring 61 inches long and weighing 63.5 pounds, breaks down into smaller lighter components, the largest of which is the bottom tube section, 21.5 inches long by 16.5 inches wide, weighing only 47 pounds, which will fit into just about any vehicle.

If truss tubes are so great, why do some people still prefer tubes? The main reason is simplicity: no assembly required. Tube scopes hold their collimation better, although if you’re consistent in how you assemble a truss, very little collimation is required. If all that’s needed is to move the scope in and out of the garage, most people leave the tube assembled and put the scope on wheels, only disassembling the tube when it’s necessary to fit it in a vehicle.

Another problem with truss tubes is that open tube. Stray light can easily interfere with the view, and both primary and secondary mirrors are prone to dew. A shroud, a tube made of elastic black material, can and should be fitted over the trusses to reduce both stray light and dew.

Telescopes of 10 inches aperture or less usually have tubes which will fit into standard vehicles, so there’s little reason to go to the complication of a truss tube. But tube telescopes of 12 inches aperture or larger become real beasts to transport, and that’s where the truss design starts to make real sense.

Geoff Gaherty

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Orion® FunScope 76mm Reflector Telecope

In this issue I have my annual compilation of Stocking Stuffers: astronomical accessories which sell for under $50. But this year, I have a big surprise: a complete telescope which sells for under $50! Despite its name, this is not a toy, but a fully functional and quite useful little Newtonian reflector telescope on a miniature Dobsonian mount. If this sounds too good to be true, read on.

The Orion FunScope comes almost completely assembled in a double-walled cardboard carton:

The only assembly required is attaching the red-dot finder to two bolts on the tube and dropping one of the two eyepieces provided in the focuser. The inner carton has a handle and doubles as a carrying case.

The telescope is equipped with a 76mm diameter spherical mirror with a 300 mm focal length. A 25 mm secondary mirror deflects the image to a smooth little rack and pinion focuser which takes standard 1.25-inch eyepieces. The eyepieces supplied are coated 20 mm and 10 mm Kellners. The finder is the same EZ Finder II used on many of Orion’s more expensive telescopes. This puts Orion’s offering ahead of similar telescopes from other companies which have either a poor quality 5x24 optical finder or no finder at all.

The most interesting feature of this scope is its mount. This is a scaled-down version of the one-armed Dobsonian mount used very successfully on Orion’s popular StarBlast telescopes. It is a smooth and solid wonder compared with the shaky mounts supplied with most other scopes in this price range. It is designed to be used on a small table but, if a suitable table isn’t available, it has a standard camera tripod socket (3/8” with 1/4”-20 insert) on its base. I found it worked well sitting on the wide top rail of my deck.

I was a bit dubious about an f/4 spherical mirror, but it turns out to work pretty well at the low magnifications of the supplied eyepieces (15x and 30x). The optical system on my sample was slightly out of collimation, and improved significantly once I aligned it. Collimation is a simpler process than on most reflectors because the primary mirror is not adjustable, all adjustments being made by three Phillips-head screws on the back of the secondary mirror. Using these three screws it was easy to get the primary mirror centered in the secondary using a simple collimation cap (not provided).

I used this telescope on a variety of the objects a beginner might try. The Moon was impressive at both magnifications. Jupiter was best at 30x, the moons being easily visible, but no bands were seen on the disk. Large deep sky objects worked very well, including the Pleiades, the double cluster in Perseus, and the Andromeda Galaxy. In the case of the latter, the satellite galaxy M32 was easily visible, but M110 couldn’t be seen. M33 was faint but clearly visible at my dark sky site. The double star Albireo was easily split at 30x.

I also had a lot of fun using this scope in daytime as a long-distance microscope. It focuses quite closely, so that nearby objects can be examined at high magnifications. The image is, of course, upside down, but that is easily fixed by standing with your back towards the object at which you are looking. I learned this trick with my first Newtonian as a teenager; I’m surprised that today’s instruction manuals don’t teach this.

The weakest part of this telescope is the eyepieces provided with it but, when you realize that the whole telescope sells for the price of one decent Plössl eyepiece, there really are no grounds for complaint! If you already have some good eyepieces, it’s worth using them on the FunScope and, if you don’t, it may be worth buying a good Plössl or two to use instead of the supplied Kellners.

Except for the eyepieces (which really aren’t that bad), everything about this scope speaks of quality: OK optics, a nice red-dot finder, and, most of all, a solid and pleasant-to-use table-top Dobsonian mount, miles ahead of anything else in its price class. Most of all, this telescope lives up to its name: it really is fun to use, even for an old astronomical veteran like myself.

Geoff Gaherty

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Target: Star of Bethlehem

One of the nicest things about Starry Night is that it can serve as a bridge to people who aren't quite as interested in astronomy as I am. This holiday season I decided that I wanted to show my "normal" friends and family what Starry Night could tell them about Christmas

The Christmas Star, or "Star of Bethlehem", reportedly acted as a beacon for the Three Wise Men to follow from the Middle East to Bethlehem and Jesus' birth.

I've heard many explanations over the years: a comet, a supernova, meteors, a supernatural event. Now, I have access to the perfect simulation tool

Here's what I did...

From what I could learn, most astronomers and Biblical scholars believe that the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem most likely occurred sometime between the years 7 and 2 BC. Was there anything unusual in the sky that might have caught the attention of the wise men?

Just so happened that a very close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m. on August 12, 3 BC. The two planets came together in the constellation of Leo. To the early Israelites, Leo was a constellation of great astrological significance and considered a sacred part of the sky. The planets came so close together that most people saw it as one object – a very striking sight.

With this information, I used Starry Night to go back in time and recreate the August 12, 3 B.C. event. You can do it too...

  1. Change your Viewing Location to Bethlehem, West Bank.
  2. Set the date in Starry Night to August 12, 3 B.C. (not A.D.)
  3. Set the time to 4:30 a.m.
  4. Turn on the constellation stick figures (press K on your keyboard if using version 4 or 5)
  5. Face East (press E on your keyboard)
  6. You should see a bright star just above the horizon and slightly to the left in the constellation of Leo.
  7. Turn on the planet labels. You should now see that the bright star is not a star at all but in fact two planets - Venus and Jupiter.
  8. Right-click (Ctrl-click on the Mac) on the bright star and select Centre from the popup menu that comes up.
  9. Zoom in using the zoom buttons. Note how close the two planets were!
  10. If you want to save this view as an .SNF file – select Save from the File menu

Two notes...

  • If you have Starry Night v4.5 or later and you want to download my pre-made .SNF file of the Star of Bethlehem, click here. When it's saved, open the <bethlehem.snf> file using Starry Night (File-Open).
     
  • Finally, for more info on the Star of Bethlehem, check out “Star of Bethlehem: Going back in time to explore its origins” from the fine folks at Space.com.

Seth Meyers
General Manager, Starry Night Education

  

A Bright Beacon for Christmas 2009

This Christmas, we have our own beacon in the sky - the planet Mars. On Christmas Day, Mars is the brightest object in the evening eastern sky. Rising about 9 pm in the constellation of Leo, Mars is visible for the rest of the night.

Midnight, December 25, 2009 EST

Mars is particularly bright now because it is nearing opposition and closest approach to the Earth.

The faster-moving Earth will overtake Mars in late January, opposition occurring on January 29, 2010. After that, Mars will gradually become dimmer as the distance between the two planets increases. As oppositions of the red planet occur approximately every two years, we will have to wait until March 3, 2012 for the next one.

Just as the Christmas star of two thousand years ago brought tidings of great joy, hopefully this year's “Christmas Star” will brighten your holiday season.

Note: You can easily determine oppositions of Mars in the past or future by choosing Favorites from the menu. Then navigate to Solar System>Inner Planets>Inner Solar System and noting when Mars, Earth and the Sun are in a straight line.

Herb Koller

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Starry Night® File of the Month

The Star of Bethlehem

Pedro Braganca
Education & Content Director
Starry Night Education

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Constellation in Focus: Cetus

Constellation Map: Cetus

Lying 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

Central Region of the Milky Way
Credit: NASA, ESA, SSC, CXC, and STScI.

   

RULES:

We would like to invite all Starry Night® Education users to send their quality astronomy photographs to be considered for use in our monthly newsletter. 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 Simulation Curriculum, 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 photo@starrynight.com (by sending an image you agree to the above terms, including Simulation Curriculum’s right to publish your photos). Please do not send .ZIP files as they will not reach us.

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NOV/DEC 2009

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Free Download
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Little Blair Valley Panorama

Contributed by Jerry Fike.
   

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Place this image and associated text file under Sky Data/Horizon Panoramas.

Pedro Braganca
Education & Content Director
Starry Night® Education

   

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Tips & Tricks
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Online Sky Chart

View our online interactive star chart at starrynighteducation.com/skychart/

Pedro Braganca
Education & Content Director
Starry Night® Education
   

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Moon Phases

Wed., Dec. 2
Full Moon, 2:30 a.m.

The first Full Moon of Dec. — that is, the twelfth of the year — is known as the Oak Moon. Other names are Cold Moon, Frost Moon, Long Night's Moon, and Moon Before Yule. In Hindi it is known as Margashirsha Poornima. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is Unduvap Poya.

Tue., Dec. 8
Last Quarter Moon, 7:13 p.m.

The Last or Third Quarter Moon rises before midnight. It also sets later, about 3 p.m.

Wed., Dec. 16
New Moon, 7:02 a.m.

Because of the angle the ecliptic forms with the horizon this month, the Moon was readily visible only one day before New Moon, almost directly above the rising Sun. This works against us past New Moon, and it will be at least a couple of days before you can make out the thin crescent Moon low on the southwestern horizon.

Thu., Dec. 24
First Quarter Moon, 12:36 p.m.

The First Quarter Moon is in the southern sky at sunset, and sets quite near midnight.

Thu., Dec. 31
Full Moon, 2:13 p.m.

This month is unusual for have two Full Moons. This second Full Moon in the month is sometimes called a “Blue Moon,” although this name came about because of a mistake in the board game Trivial Pursuit, based on a misunderstanding of information in Sky & Telescope magazine. This is also the thirteenth Full Moon of the year.

Observing Highlights

Sun./Mon., Dec. 13/14
Geminid meteor shower, midnight–dawn

Stay up late and see the most reliable meteor shower of the year. There will be no Moon to interfere with your view.

Sun., Dec. 20
Double shadow transit on Jupiter, 8:34–10:08 p.m.

Watch the shadows of Io and Callisto simultaneously cross the disk of Jupiter. Visible in scopes 90mm aperture or larger.

Thu., Dec. 31
Partial eclipse of the Moon, 5:17–9:28 p.m. GMT

This eclipse is visible in Europe, Asia, Africa and western Australia, but not in North or South America.

Planets

Mercury is an “evening star” this month, but poorly placed for observers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Venus is now behind the Sun, and is not visible.

Mars is now rising before midnight and is brightening towards opposition on January 29, 2010. It is in Leo for the whole month. It is close to the Moon on Dec. 6 and 7.

Jupiter is well past opposition, but is prominent in the southwestern sky all evening. In Capricornus, it is a lot more favorably placed for northern observers that it has been for several years. It is close to the Moon on Dec. 20 and 21.

Saturn is now well into the morning sky. Its rings are beginning to open again. It is close to the Moon on Dec. 9 and 10.

Geoff Gaherty

Data for this calendar have been derived from a number of sources including the Observer's Handbook 2009 of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Starry Night® software, and others. Only events with a reasonable possibility for Northern Hemisphere observers, or those events with some other significance, are given. All times shown are U.S. Eastern Time.
   

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