Christmas Sky

StarDate: December 25, 2009

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After the dinner dishes are done and the presents are put away tonight, you might want to step outside for a few minutes for one more holiday treat: a glorious night sky.

Around 8 o'clock, the Moon is high in the sky, just a bit past its first-quarter phase. It lights up the landscape with a silvery glow -- a glow that's especially bright if you're in one of those areas that had a white Christmas.

The planet Jupiter stands low in the southwest. It's the brightest pinpoint of light in the sky at that hour -- like a holiday lightbulb on steroids.

The constellation Cygnus, the swan, is low in the northwest. At this time of year, though, it's more reminiscent of its other name: the Northern Cross. It stands almost straight up from the horizon.

The brightest true star in the night sky is just climbing into view in the southeast: Sirius, the leading light of Canis Major, the big dog. And Orion, the hunter, stands above it -- one of the brightest and most beautiful of all the constellations. Look for its Belt of three stars, which aim almost directly at Sirius.

If you're out a couple of hours later, Jupiter will be gone from view, but another planet will be climbing into view in the east: Mars. It also looks like a brilliant star, but with a distinctly orange color. It'll be at its brightest in just a few weeks, so it's putting on quite a show.

So enjoy the holiday, the time with family and friends -- and the beautiful evening sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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