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Eye on the Sky: Conjunction of the Giants

Be sure to keep your eyes glued to the sky this December, as it promises to be a very interesting month.

The show kicks off on the night of December 13-14, which is when peak activity of the Geminids meteor shower will occur. Often considered the best shower of the year, this year’s event will coincide with the new moon, assuring jet black skies for optimum viewing. Expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour from a dark location. The Geminids are often very impressive, with many being bright and multicolored. Although they are visible throughout the night, you should plan your viewing for after midnight to catch the most meteors. They can be seen all over the sky, but most will emanate from the constellation Gemini, hence the name Geminids.

When two planets come close to each other in the sky, we refer to the event as a conjunction.

But when the king of the planets, Jupiter, comes into conjunction with his father, Saturn, we refer to it as a great conjunction. This magnificent event, which hasn’t occurred since the year 2000, is going to occur again on the night of December 21st, which also just happens to be the night of the winter solstice and the Ursids meteor shower. Although the meteor shower will probably be a minor event, the conjunction promises to be stunning. These planets haven’t appeared this close together for 397 years, in the year 1623! They will be so close together that they may even appear to some people to merge into a single planet, being only 1/5 of a full moon diameter apart. To witness this must-see event, look to the western sky just after sunset. But why wait until December 21st when you can watch them slowly converging in the sky starting right now! If you miss this extra-close great conjunction, you can catch it again on March 15, 2080. Good luck with that!

If you happen to be out on the night of December 30th and wonder what that giant silver ball is hanging in the sky, why that’s the full Cold Moon, my friend.

The Earth will reach perihelion, meaning it will be at the point on its orbit that’s closest to the sun.

Since this edition of the paper runs through early January, I thought I’d mention one peculiar event that occurs on January 2nd. That’s when the Earth reaches perihelion, meaning it’s at the point on its orbit that’s closest to the sun. Yes, you read that right, we’re closest to the sun in the dead of winter! Put that in your pipe and smoke it a while.

– Barry Pyne. Hashtag Lewisburg City Paper #129. December 2020. image: freepik.com

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