This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 December 14 – 21 ~by Curt Nason
This time of year many naturalists throughout the province are busy performing Christmas bird counts. If you are on your toes and not too worn out you can add four stellar birds between dusk and dawn. Start with the easy ones around 6 pm by looking for the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle above the western horizon. The lowest of the three is Altair, the head of Aquila the Eagle, which is standing straight up on the horizon. The highest of the trio is Deneb at the tail of Cygnus the Swan, which is doing its signature dive. If it is cloudy you have a chance to catch them in the east in the morning, although the eagle will be difficult with Altair rising around 7 am.
Midnight is your best chance to spot the elusive and tiny Columba the Dove, but you will need an unobstructed southern horizon. Look below Orion for Lepus the Hare, and then try to see stars near the horizon directly below. Very few bird counts will be missing the common crow but, in case you did, look about a hand span above the southern horizon around 6:30 am for a distinct quadrilateral of stars. There you will find Corvus the Crow hitching a ride on the tail of Hydra the Water Snake.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:53 am and sunset will occur at 4:33 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:55 am and 4:41 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:58 am and set at 4:36 pm, giving 8 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (8:00 am and 4:44 pm in Saint John). Winter solstice occurs just after midnight on the night of December 21/22.
The Moon is at third quarter on Thursday morning, rising around 1 pm and setting 6:40 the following morning. In the morning sky Mars remains within a binocular view to the lower left of the double star Zubenelgenubi for much of the week. Mercury is moving sunward but still rises 50 minutes before the Sun next weekend. In the evening sky, Venus moves rapidly eastward from Saturn, while Jupiter is lost in twilight moving toward a conjunction with the Sun on December 27. The Geminid meteor shower peaks this Saturday afternoon and, despite the bright moonlight, it should reward us with several shooting stars from Friday evening to Sunday morning if the clouds take pity on us.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.