Skywatch Line for Wednesday, December 23rd and Thursday, December 24th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, December 23rd and Thursday, December 24th written by Louis Suarato

The 97% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises around 3:00 Wednesday afternoon. It was on December 23, 1968, that American astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William Anders, became the first men to orbit the Moon. The Apollo 8 mission was not only the first manned flight to the Moon and back, but it served to survey potential landing sites for the first lunar landing. At nightfall, you’ll see that the Moon resides in Taurus, about three degrees from the constellation’sbrightest star, Aldebaran. Aldebaran is sometimes mistakenly considered part of the Hyades Star Cluster, but at the distance of 65 light-years, Aldebaran is much closer than the stars of the Hyades, which are about 150 light-years away. Similar to using Orion’s belt to find Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, you can follow the Belt in the other direction, and the first bright reddish-orange star you’ll see is Aldebaran. The Pioneer 10 spacecraft is headed in Aldebaran’s general direction and should be in its vicinity in about 2 million years.

Jupiter appears above the horizon around 11 p.m. at the top of the constellation Virgo. Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina rises between Arcturus and Mars around 1:30 a.m., and at approximately 4:30 a.m., the comet will be about 30 degrees above the east-southeastern horizon. The bright star to the lower right of Mars, is Spica, the constellation Virgo’s brightest. Venus rises 11 minutes after 4 a.m., followed by Saturn an hour and 40 minutes later. 

December’s Full Moon occurs at 6:11 a.m. Christmas Day. This month’s Full Moon is known as the Full Cold Moon and the Long Night Moon. The Long Night Moon is derived from the Full Moon closest to the winter solstice, when, because of the axial tilt of the Earth, the Full Moon crosses the sky higher than any full Moon of the year. The Moon will be at its highest around midnight, and being closer to perigee than average, will add brightness to objects below. The Full Moon will be visible from Thursday at 3:54 p.m. until Friday at 6:55 a.m., a full 15 hours.

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