StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

014    DECEMBER 2, 1996:   The Pleiades
Around 8-9 p.m., look east to view the three belt stars of Orion, the Hunter, pointing up nearly vertically from the horizon. Following them will lead to Aldebaran and the Hyades described in last week’s StarWatch. Continue past the Hyades, to a fuzzy patch of light called the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. Often misrepresented for a constellation, the Pleiades star cluster, like the Hyades, are really part of Taurus, the Bull. The Pleiades are about 425 light years distant, thus making their angular size considerably smaller than the Hyades.
015    DECEMBER 9, 1996:   Geminid Meteors
Look due west, at 6 p.m. for Comet Hale-Bopp. H-B will be about 1-2 binocular fields above an unobstructed horizon. The moon will be at the same height as the comet on the 12th, but H-B will be about 3-4 binocular fields to the right. On Friday the 13th, look eastward for abundant meteors after 9 p.m. They will appear to diverge from the area around two bright stars, Caster and Pollux. These famed Geminid meteors treat skywatchers to an annual show of between 20-60 meteors/hour on this date. Local light pollution will suppress this number to about 20 meteors/hour after midnight.
016    DECEMBER 16, 1996:   Winter Solstice
The moon appears to the right of Saturn on Monday, above the ringed world on Tuesday, and to Saturn’s left by Wednesday. Winter solstice occurs on Saturday December 21st at 9:06 a.m., marking the shortest day of the year. For the Lehigh Valley, the sun will rise in the southeast at 7:22 a.m. Nine hours, 16 minutes later, at 4:38 p.m., it will set in the southwest. The sun will be only 26 degrees above the horizon at local noon. These days are the times of the long shadows.
017    DECEMBER 23, 1996:   Winter Stars Rise
On Monday the 23rd look towards the southeast about 10 p.m. The nearly full moon will be encircled by a group of dazzling stars from a half dozen winter constellations. Starting below the moon at the six o’clock position, there is the brightest star of the nighttime sky, Sirius (Canis Major) at 7:30, Procyon (Canis Minor) at 9:00, two stars, Pollux (lower) and Caster (Gemini) at 11:00, Capella (Auriga) at 2:00 and closest to the moon, Aldebaran (Taurus) and at 4:00, bluish Rigel (Orion). Repeat this exercise several nights later without the moon. Start with Sirius.
018    DECEMBER 30, 1996:   Orion's Belt
About 8 p.m. in the east are the three belt stars of Orion, the Hunter: Mintaka (top), Alnilam, and Alnitak. Using binoculars you will discover they all shine with a bluish glow. These luminaries are all very distant from earth, about 1600 light years. They are consuming their hydrogen fuel 10’s of thousands of times more rapidly than the sun. Consequently, they will only shine for a few 10’s of millions of years. Compare this to the less spectacular yellow sun, which is halfway through its 10 billion year existence. To be continued...