Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Meandering slowly through the constellation Perseus, the comet that suddenly flared into prominence a month ago is fading a bit in visibility. Although bright moonlight hides its glow, the comet can still be seen under a dark sky.
It has grown to fill an area of the sky twice the size of the full moon but has dimmed to the limit of visibility to the eye. Bin­oculars offer the best view. Scan the sky to the northeast, well above the horizon after darkness falls. On Dec. 18 the red planet comes closer to Earth than for another nine years. Find it well above the eastern horizon by 9 pm during the first part of the month.

It will become brighter than any star in the sky by month's end, outshining brilliant Sirius in Canis Major. On Dec. 24, Mars will be at opposition with the sun and will rise in the east at sunset, climb high and be visible all night in the constellation Gemini.

Beautiful to look at with the unaided eye, Mars appears most impressive in a small telescope's field of view. If the atmosphere is clear and steady, high power may be applied to the telescope to bring out some of the surface detail and color. A white polar cap may be visible, along with subtle brown and green mark­ings.
The night of Dec; 23, the full moon will appear to pass close to Mars as seen from the Pacific Northwest. Viewers here will be treated to a rare lunar occulta­tion when the moon, for a brief period, covers the red planet.

Geminid meteor shower After the moon sets the night of Dec. 13, the sky will fill with brilliant streaks from one of the most active meteor showers of the year. The constellation Gemini, from which the meteors ap­pear to radiate, will be high in the sky early, making this show­er a good one for evening watch­ing.

The show will grow in strength into the morning hours, when a meteor should streak by every minute or two. The rates will taper off, but many meteors may still be seen into the evening of Dec.14.

Saturn and Venus
Morning commuters will no­tice the brilliant light shim­mering colorfully over the east­ern horizon on clear mornings. It looks like an airliner coming in to land. Many people call it the "morning star," but it's actually Venus.

Farther to the west the ringed planet Saturn sits at the· feet of the constellation Leo the Lion. Look for Saturn to rise at mid­night at the beginning of the month and two hours earlier by month's end, when it will join Mars as one of the first targets for new Christmas telescopes.

Comet Tuttle
sky watchers love comets and seldom get the treat of two in one month. Comet Tuttle isn't expected to flare into a spectacu­lar sight, but neither was Comet Holmes. By month's end we can expect it to grow slowly to just naked-eye visibility under a dark sky. Binoculars give the best view. Try firiding·it around Dec. 20 as it passes through easy-to­find constellation Cassiopeia, the one that looks like a W.

Winter solstice
On Dec. 21, rejoice as the sun stops its slide into the Southern Hemisphere and begins to climb higher in the north, at 10:08 p.m., the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.