By Mike Lynch
The new year is upon us and we survived all the dire predictions from highly uninformed folks who need to take a high school science class about how the world was going end.
Among the reasonings was a total misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar. Other crackpots said Earth was going to be done in because on Dec. 21 the sun would be in the direction of the center of our Milky Way, some 26,000 light-years away and that somehow would cause a polar shift on Earth.
Some said it would somehow release that the destructive power of the massive black hole in the center of our home galaxy.
There were other foolhardy predictions as well. By the way, the sun passes by the direction of the center of the Milky Way every year on the winter solstice, Dec. 21, but I guess the “doom and gloomers” who cranked out their misinformation on the Internet didn’t completely do their homework.
As I shared with you last week, the night sky is awash with all kinds of bright stars and constellations, especially in the east and southeast half at nightfall.
That’s where Orion the Hunter and his gang of other brilliant stars and constellations are holding court.
It’s my favorite set of constellations, centered around the mighty hunter that reminds me, and a lot of other people, of a giant hour glass. Orion’s most striking feature is his belt, made up of three bright stars in a near perfect row.
After 8 p.m. if you see a really bright star rising above the southeast horizon, that’s Sirius, the brightest star in the entire nighttime sky at any time of the year. Now there is a brighter starlike object this winter much higher in the southeast sky: the bright planet Jupiter.
Sirius is not only the brightest shiner in the night sky but is also the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, Orion’s loyal hunting dog.
Sirius is such a bright star mainly because it is one of the closer stars to us, relatively speaking. It’s about a million and half miles in diameter, twice that of our sun. Sirius is about eight and a half light-years away, roughly 50 trillion miles.
Also, since Sirius is so far away, you’re not seeing it as it is right now, but what it looked like in 2005 . It’s taken that long for the light from Sirius to reach planet Earth.
Sirius is also known as the patron star of a New Year because during the first couple of weeks of January the brightest star in night sky rises to its highest point around midnight, crossing the meridian (an imaginary line running from the north horizon to the south horizon) at its highest point, 30 degrees above the southern horizon.
So forget the botched 2012 doomsday prediction and get Sirius with your stargazing.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.