If you need a break from the countdown to the new year this evening, step outside for a moment to enjoy the lightshow in the midnight sky.
Two planets greet the new year.
The brighter of the two is Jupiter, the giant of the solar system. It’s low in the west at that hour, but it outshines everything else in that part of the sky, so you can’t miss it. Fainter Mars is about the same height in the eastern sky. It shines with a distinctive orange hue, so it’s pretty easy to pick out, too.
Another brilliant pinpoint stands well up in the south: Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest true star in all the night sky. If you look carefully, you’ll see it twinkle from red to blue to pure white in the blink of an eye.
And up above Sirius, and a bit to the right, is one of the most beautiful constellations — and one of the easiest to find. It’s Orion, the hunter. Its “belt” of three bright stars aims toward Sirius. Two other bright stars stand above the belt, with two more below it. They form a wide box. And between the belt and the bottom of the box is a slash of objects known as Orion’s sword. Its most famous member is the smudge of light known as the Orion Nebula — a vast nursery of newborn stars. It’s a good symbol for the newborn year of 2012.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.