New Year's Sky

StarDate: December 31, 2010

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The dawn of the new year brings a beautiful astronomical display: the Moon, two bright planets, and one bright star. They're low in the southeast about 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise. As long as you have a clear horizon, you shouldn't have any trouble finding all four objects.

The easy one, of course, is the Moon. It'll be "new" in just three days, so it's a thin crescent right now. But the dark portion of the Moon is easy to spot, too. It's illuminated by brilliant "earthshine," which is sunshine reflecting off of Earth. That gives the lunar disk a ghostly gray appearance.

Another easy one is the planet Venus. It's the brilliant "morning star" well above the Moon. It rises several hours before the Sun does right now, so it's in fine view well before the Moon.

The other two objects are a good bit fainter, but their proximity to the Moon will help them stand out.

Antares, the brightest star of Scorpius, is directly below the Moon, and quite close, so it's hard to miss. And the planet Mercury is well to the left of Antares. It's brighter, though, and there are no other star-like points of light around it, so you should be able to pluck it from the growing twilight -- the dawn of the new year.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010

 

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

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