Skywatch Line for Wednesday December 30th, and Thursday December 31st, 2020

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, December 30th, and Thursday, December 31st, written by Louis Suarato.

The nearly Full Moon will be in its waning gibbous phase for most of Wednesday and Thursday nights. You will still be able to see a close conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, but only for a short period of time between twilight and when they sett at 6:20 p.m. in the south-southwest. As Saturn and Jupiter are setting, the Moon will be rising in Gemini Wednesday night, about 6 degrees to the south of Pollux. Thursday night, the Moon will rise in Cancer, a degree above the Beehive Cluster, also known as M44. Venus, which can be seen in the morning, is the only other easily visible planet. Venus rises in the southeast at 5:55 a.m., an hour and half before sunrise.

In addition to the Winter Solstice, when the northern hemisphere is tilted at its furthest away from the Sun, and sunrise occurs at its southernmost point, other astronomical indications of the winter season can be discerned by two asterisms and one constellation. During winter, the Big Dipper asterism in the constellation Ursa Major, begins the night below Polaris, and parallel to the horizon, then climbs to the east of Polaris, standing upright on its handle. The other asterism that can be seen during this season is the Winter Hexagon. The Winter Hexagon, or Winter Circle is comprised of six bright stars surrounding Betelgeuse in Orion. Counterclockwise, from the lowest are Sirius, in Canis Major, Procyon, in Canis Minor, Pollux, in Gemini, Capella, in Auriga, Aldebaran in Taurus, and Rigel in Orion. Orion, itself, is a sign of winter, as it is the first constellation to rise after twilight.

End your year on a high note by looking 250 miles up at a bright -2.2 magnitude pass of the International Space Station over our region Thursday morning. The ISS will emerge at 6:47 a.m. out of the northwestern horizon, in the constellation Auriga. After passing Capella, the ISS will sail over Cassiopeia before heading toward Cygnus where it will disappear into the glow of sunrise.

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