Exploring the Stars
Week of December 12 – 18, 2021
by Bridget Jones, Environmental Educator
As the shortest day of the year approaches, it can be difficult to find time to connect with nature during the daylight hours. However, one of winter’s gifts is the opportunity to appreciate the night sky. On clear nights, there’s a whole universe to explore waiting right above our heads.
A few nights ago, three particularly bright stars caught my attention as I looked out the window to the south. Intrigued, I grabbed my binoculars and did some research. The “stars” turned out to be the planets Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. Looking through the binoculars uncovered even more amazing details. I could see the tiny moons surrounding Jupiter, and even caught several meteors shooting across the sky. It seems like the longer you look at the night sky, the more there is to notice.
The next few weeks will be a great time to start exploring the stars. See if you can catch the Geminid meteor shower, an annual event that produces a multitude of meteors, on the night of December 13th-14th. Later in the month, the Ursid meteor shower will hit its peak on December 21st-22nd. You can also keep your eye out for Comet Leonard low in the southwest sky in the early evening after December 17th. While the comet will fade over the second half of December, you may still be able to see it with a dark sky and a clear view of the horizon.
While we wait for the solstice to come and the days to start lengthening, don’t miss this opportunity to get to know our stellar neighborhood. If you’re new to stargazing and would like to learn more, check out these resources below!
Getting started with astronomy: https://www.planetary.org/night-sky/astronomy-for-beginners https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-resources/stargazing-basics/how-to-start-right-in-astronomy/
Geminid meteor shower: https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-geminid-meteor-shower/
Comet Leonard: https://www.space.com/comet-leonard-shines-in-december-sky
Comet image credit: https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/view.htm?id=a0213662-b24b-4e23-b358-8910217126aa