A penultimate look at the skies

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

We all know the Christmas Story. It is recorded for us in Luke Chapter Two of the Bible. However, that is not today's Christmas Story, which involves wrapping paper, tinsel, and glitter.

There is another story associated with Jesus that completes the Christmas Story begun in Luke Two, and that is the Crucifixion of Jesus beginning in Luke 23:26. Because without the second, the first one has no meaning.

Just as in the Bible, we have that story written in the stars and we can see it every December 25th.

Be outside on that night looking east at about 8:30 pm MST for the constellation Cancer the Crab, which has just cleared the horizon. In the center of Cancer is a small star cluster, called the Beehive (M44). You can use binoculars or a telescope to magnify it.

It has another name, "Praesaepe," which, in Latin, means "manger."

Now turn around and look west. You will find Cygnus, the Swan just setting in the northwest. Another name for Cygnus, the Swan is "The Northern Cross."

So we have the story of Jesus from manger to cross in our sky every Dec. 25 to look at and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

For our other viewing pleasure, Orion the Hunter is looking good rising over the eastern horizon with his three-star-belt, bright red Betelgeuse at his right shoulder, even brighter Rigel at his left knee, and his famous sword (and we all know what is there).

Above Orion, is the fearsome Taurus, the Bull, with his "V"-shaped face and very bright reddish Aldeberan for his eye. If you need help finding Aldeberan, follow a line drawn upward through the belt of Orion.

Behind the eye is a very nice star cluster, called Hyades, which can really be appreciated in binoculars.

One of the "horns" of Taurus is touching one of the stars of the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer.

There are three very nice, binocular-worthy open star clusters within Auriga; M38, M36, and M37 (top to bottom). You will want to spend some time here.

Also hanging out in the neighborhood are those twins, Castor and Pollux, in Gemini. Look for them to the left and slightly below Orion.

If you can hang around until 9:00 pm MST, and have a good view to the east, look for the premier sparkler of all time, Sirius, the Dog Star, which is found in Canis Major. It is the brightest star in the winter sky and you will have no problem finding it.

Just look for the thing which is sparkling like it is on steroids. If you're still having problems, go back to Orion, and follow a line down through his belt.

Points right to it. Nice how that works, isn't it?

SKY WATCH: New moon, Dec. 29. Remember, new moon means no moon is visible. In the morning sky, the moon and Jupiter are playing tag. If you are an earlier riser, check out the view to the south, where the moon and Jupiter will be about 14-degrees apart. How far is 14-degrees you ask? Hold your hand out at arm's length and make a fist. The distance across your knuckles is about 15-degrees. Also, you might notice that Saturn has joined our early-morning party.

NEXT WEEK: The end of all things.

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