A bright orange star accompanies the bright gibbous Moon across the sky tonight: Aldebaran, the "eye" of Taurus, the bull. They're low in the east at nightfall, with Aldebaran to the lower right of the Moon. They soar high across the sky during the night, and set shortly before dawn.
They climb so high across the sky because of the time of year -- near the winter solstice, which takes place on Tuesday afternoon.
At the solstice, the north pole tilts away from the Sun. So from here in the United States, the Sun's path across the sky, known as the ecliptic, doesn't climb very high. The Sun creeps low across the south, and it doesn't remain in view for very long -- only about eight hours for the northern states, and even less from Alaska.
But the ecliptic is like a big loop around Earth. When one side of the loop is low, the other side is high. So as day turns into night, the ecliptic climbs high across the sky. The Moon follows the ecliptic, too, so when it's full or close to full, as it is now, it soars high overhead during the night. And it remains in view longer than at any other time of the year -- up to about 16 hours from places like Seattle or Minneapolis.
So not surprisingly, December's full Moon is known as the Long Night Moon -- a full Moon that's coming up tomorrow night. It won't shine brightly all night, though, because there's a total lunar eclipse. We'll talk about that tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.