What you’ll see in the December sky

  • By Mike Lynch
  • Friday, November 29, 2013 10:18am
  • Life

Even though it’s December there are still some summer constellations residing in the Northwest skies.

The Summer Triangle is still hanging in there in the western heavens.

The Summer Triangle is not a constellation, but is made up of three bright stars from three separate constellations. They’re the brightest stars in the western sky and each is the brightest in their respective constellations.

Deneb, the highest star in the west, is the brightest shiner in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Within the stars of Cygnus is the famous and easy to see Northern Cross with Deneb at the top of the cross and the dimmer star Albireo at the foot.

To make the cross into a swan, picture Deneb at the tail of the celestial swan and Albireo at the head. Then look for fainter stars beyond and above both ends of the crosspiece.

The fainter stars, together with the three crosspiece stars, form an arc that makes up the wingspan of the swan.

In the southwestern sky, shining above Jupiter, is the Great Square of Pegasus, the torso of Pegasus the Winged Horse.

Just to the northeast of the Square is the constellation Andromeda the Princess, with the Andromeda Galaxy just above the Princess.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the next-door neighbor to our Milky Way Galaxy at more than 2 million light years away, with just one light-year equaling nearly 6 trillion miles.

In the east after evening twilight, you will see the rising of the winter constellations, the best of the year in my opinion.

The constellations Auriga the Chariot Driver and Taurus the Bull lead the charge. Just above Taurus is the best star cluster in the sky, known both as the Pleiades and the Seven Little Sisters.

This is a young group of stars, 410 light-years away, that looks like a tiny Big Dipper.

After 8 p.m. Orion the Hunter, the great centerpiece of the winter constellations, takes to the low eastern sky.

The three stars in a row that make the belt of the great hunter will definitely jump out at you.

The brightest star in the east, however, is actually the planet Jupiter. By 8:30, if not sooner, you will see it on the rise in the low east-northeastern sky.

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.” www.lynchandthestars.com.

The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.

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