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Holiday Skies

December 24, 2017

Winter offers some of the most beautiful night skies of the entire year: bright stars, prominent star patterns, and a few treats, which seems only right for the holiday season.

As the last blush of twilight drains from the sky this evening, for example, look toward the west for the Northern Cross. Those bright stars represent Cygnus, the swan. As the swan begins to set, though, it dives head-first toward the western horizon, so it looks like a cross. The swan’s brightest star, Deneb, stands atop the cross.

Not long after that, the signature constellation of winter climbs into view in the eastern sky: Orion the hunter. Look for his three-star “belt” extending straight up from the horizon. Orange Betelgeuse stands to the left of the belt, with blue-white Rigel to the right.

And an hour or so after Orion climbs into good view, follow the line made by the belt down toward the horizon for the brightest star in all the night sky: Sirius, the dog star. It twinkles fiercely as it ascends the sky, rapidly changing from red to blue to white.

One of the celestial treats is the Pleiades star cluster — a family of a thousand or more stars at the shoulder of Taurus, the bull. It looks like a tiny dipper. It’s more than 400 light-years away — one of the most-distant objects that’s easily visible to the unaided eye.

These and many other beautiful sights make a glimpse at the evening sky a pleasant and relaxing way to enjoy a holiday night.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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