StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley
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DECEMBER  1997
067a  DECEMBER 7-8, 1997:   Moon in Conjunction with Saturn
If you enjoyed the planetary parade of last week, the excitement continues as the moon reaches first quarter tonight, then heads for another close encounter with the planet Saturn on Tuesday morning. Unfortunately from the Lehigh Valley, Saturn and the moon set about 30 minutes before our best view, so try observing Saturn and the moon between 11:00 p.m., Monday, and 1:00 a.m. Tuesday. The moon will be positioned just below Saturn, low in the western sky. Make sure your horizon is unobscured by trees, buildings, or lights. From the Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, November 11th, a similar spectacle took place in the early evening hours with the nearly full moon just missing the ringed world. From the Southeastern US, Saturn was occulted. This weekís rendezvous of the moon and Saturn would have resulted in an occultation at about 2:35 a.m., Tuesday, if Saturn would have been above the horizon. Stay tuned for information about a bullís-eye encounter of the moon with the Bullís eye of Taurus beginning in Tuesdayís StarWatch.
 
067b  DECEMBER 9-12, 1997:   Moon Occults Aldebaran
The close encounter of the moon and Saturn on Tuesday morning sets the stage for an even better show late Friday into Saturday morning. This time the moon literally hits the bullís-eye--that is the eye of Taurus, the Bull, a star named Aldebaran. By Friday midnight the moon is within a quarter of its diameter from this star. Small telescopes or spotting scopes at low power will reveal that Aldebaran will be occulted about 12:20 a.m. Saturday. The bright reddish star will suddenly vanish as the moon sweeps over it. Aldebaran will stay hidden behind the moon for over one hour, reemerging in a blink of the eye at approximately 1:29 a.m. Several nights before the occultation, go outside about 11 p.m. to observe the three equally bright and equally distant belt stars of Orion nearly due south and midway up in the sky. Follow the belt stars upward until you come to another bright star. That will be Aldebaran. With binoculars, even from the city, you will notice that this star is the brightest member of a "V" shaped grouping of stars which forms the head of the bull. You now know which star to closely observe on Friday evening into Saturday morning.
 
068    DECEMBER 14, 1997:   Alan Hale Visiting Valley
A year ago, the Lehigh Valley was all abuzz with the prospects of viewing Comet Hale-Bopp. Now one of its co-discoverers, Alan Hale, will be visiting us starting Thursday of this week when he flies in from New Mexico at the invitation of the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society. During his four-day stay, he will be addressing pupils of all grade levels about the importance of science literacy, as well as some of the inside scoop about his comet. Heíll be speaking privately to groups at Allen and Dieruff High Schools, Palisades HS, Emmaus Jr. HS, and Junior High East in Boyertown. Public appearances will be made at Unami Middle School in Chalfont on Thursday morning at 10, 11, & noon--call 215-822-3317. Hale will also be at Danís Camera City between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday (call 610-434-2313), and later at 3:30 p.m. at Stroudsburg Senior HS--717-421-6952. On Sunday, Hale will be featured presenter at the 40th Anniversary Banquet of the LVAAS, 4-10 p.m. at the Days Inn and Conference Center, Routes 22 & 309 in Allentown. Tickets are $35/pp and will be available through Thursday by contacting Joe Benitez at 215-529-9744. Complete details about Alan Haleís visit are available at http://www.lvaas.org
 
069    DECEMBER 21, 1997:   Happy Saturnalia
The winter solstice occurs at 3:07 p.m. today. For us this means the lowest noontime position of the sun, less than one-third of the way up in the sky, the farthest south-of-east rising position and the farthest south-of-west setting position--the shortest arc path of the sun across the sky and, therefore, the shortest day of the year, 9 hours, 16 minutes. After today the sun begins its snail-like climb, culminating with Juneís summer solstice, when the sunís noon sky position will be 47 degrees higher. No wonder the Romans celebrated the weeklong festival of the Saturnalia, a tribute to the god of the harvest, Saturn. When Roman priests saw the sunís midday position notching slightly upward, it was reason for merrymaking and gift giving. After all, there would be another spring, another harvest, another year for hope. And what better time for early Christians to worship the birth of their Messiah, hidden from the scorn of pagan Roman officials, too busy partying. And what better time to contemplate the beginning of a new year! Donít forget to glimpse Saturn, mid-sky, just west of south about 7:30 p.m. Happy Saturnalia--Happy Holidays to all!
 
070    DECEMBER 28, 1997:   The Downside of the Sun
Last week we passed winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, when the sun reached its lowest noontime position in the sky. For the next six weeks the sun will remain low in the sky. It really wonít be until February before people begin to spontaneously exclaim how the days are getting longer. Why does the winter season seem so drawn-out? As our tilted Earth orbits the sun, the sun changes its mid-day altitude almost like an "S" flipped onto its side. Itís bottoming out right now, but in about six weeks, the sun will begin to climb the steeper slope of the curve, and then weíll rapidly notice an increase in the length of the day and the greater energy and warmth that a higher sun brings. It takes about three months for the sun to go through this low point, so we have already been noticing very short days for quite some time. Of course, the sun summits on the summer solstice, this year occurring on June 21; so from mid-May through mid-August, little change also occurs in the length of the day or the height of the sun above the horizon at noon. For reasons that are obvious, sipping iced tea under the sprinkler during the heat of summer is a just a little easier to bear.
 
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