Skies Over West Seattle, almost-winter edition: Look, up there!

December 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm | In Skies Over West Seattle, West Seattle news | 7 Comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ever wish for advance alert of an upcoming meteor shower/eclipse/etc. – and/or wonder “What’s that bright ‘star’ up there?” – especially on these recent clear nights? Here you go! It’s our periodic feature by West Seattle’s own Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen, famous for her solstice/equinox sunset watches among other things.

By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog

Well, it has been quite a cloudy fall, so not so much to see, but as we move into winter, we get some blazingly clear skies inbetween the clouds. The colder it is, the more dazzling our skies.

Hey! What’s That?

In the Southwest just before and after sunset: Venus

High in the East a while after sunset, and climbing higher through the night: Jupiter

Rising Southeast later at night: Sirius, brightest star in the night sky. It will twinkle so much you’ll think it is an airplane flashing its lights at you.

Jupiter and Venus are ‘blindingly’ bright in the night sky this month. Venus is bright enough that you can easily see it before the Sun even sets. Its date of greatest brilliancy is tonight (December 6th). It will still be spectacular tomorrow, first night the Christmas Ships visit West Seattle. That’ll be a perfect time to stargaze, if you can handle the cold.

Comets

Ah yes, Comet ISON. As we now know, Comet ISON is not the comet of the century, even if it was highly anticipated. Not to worry, there is another comet available: Comet Lovejoy.

Comet Lovejoy is just off the handle of the Big Dipper, so your best chance for seeing it will be with a clear Northern horizon. I recommend Alki. You’ll probably need binoculars, but any old pair will do.

The Pleiades and the Hyades

We’ve been noticing the Pleiades and the Hyades in the East as the skies get darker. I mentioned these open star clusters in my first Skies Over West Seattle article. They’re still some of my favorites. You can easily pick them out with your eyes: a teeny group of stars. You’ll count between five and ten stars in each group. When you look with binoculars you’ll see dozens of stars, and with a home telescope or a telescope picture from the internet you’ll see hundreds of stars in that same place.

Events

Tonight – Venus’s greatest brilliancy. Watch before and after sunset in the West on this date and near this date.

Saturday, December 21, 3:30-4:30 pm – Winter Solstice Sunset Watch at Solstice Park in West Seattle.

Got events to add? Please comment below.

The Moon

Did you see the Moon earlier this week? What a beautiful crescent. My toddler calls it a “banana Moon.”

January 1, New Moon: the day of the new moon you won’t see the Moon at all, but in a few days before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon in the mid-day sky.

December 9, January 7, First Quarter: the first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation.

December 17, January 15, Full Moon: The full moon rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise.

December 25, January 23, Last Quarter: the week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky.

Resources:

Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world – any time and date in history, or the future.

Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloud cover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.

USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.

International Dark Sky Association

Who is Alice?

Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for all the great info, Alice!

    Comment by Chris W — 5:43 pm December 6, 2013 #

  2. Earlier this week I identified Venus as Sirius. My Co-workers didn’t even know what Sirius was so I don’t feel so bad about misidentifying it.
    -
    I am always reminded of Terrapin Station lyrics when the Moon and Venus are in the evening sky:
    -
    “…the spiral light of Venus
    rising first and shining best,
    From the northwest corner
    of a brand-new crescent moon
    crickets and cicadas sing
    a rare and different tune…”

    Comment by JayDee — 6:42 pm December 6, 2013 #

  3. I love that there is this wonderful, celestial performance going on above my head at night – and thank you, Alice, for sharing the details with us. When I step outside to walk my dog in the evening, I am more aware of the beauty around us. It makes me happy to be alive.

    Comment by CEA — 7:33 pm December 6, 2013 #

  4. Alice, thanks so much for identifying Venus! Been wondering what that bright star is, so close to the moon every night on my way home.

    Comment by Elisabeth — 8:51 pm December 6, 2013 #

  5. Yes to all!
    .
    I’m glad you agree with me, and are inspired to curiosity by the beauty of the night sky.
    :)

    Comment by Alice — 9:45 pm December 6, 2013 #

  6. thank you so much for this post. while coming home from work Thursday, our little son asked us if that was the north star near the moon. I guessed it was Venus but wasn’t sure. this is so helpful! and he’s loved the moon sliver- “and you can still see the rest of the moon even though it’s dark !!”

    Comment by sam-c — 8:22 am December 7, 2013 #

  7. Just want to say that I am impressed by how bright and strong Venus still is a few weeks later. Please post more info like this as much as you can, it’s fantastic!

    Comment by Shannon — 9:24 pm December 23, 2013 #

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