Gateway to the Stars December 2018

Posted November 28, 2018 - by Nick Jarvis

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Hello friends, we have much to celebrate!

Sure, you're probably thinking of the usual December stuff like family, holidays, generosity, good will, loving your neighbor, yadda-yadda... But the sky has lined up some terrific gifts for us as well!

Despite the cold, the wintertime sky has many beautiful and meaningful sights from the familiar stars of Orion to the percolating nebulosity in the background, busily birthing brand new solar systems at this very moment! The winter stars around Orion are some of the brightest in the sky, and the cold winter weather can keep the air beautifully still and calm at night, giving them extra crispness and clarity.

This month, we'll also be graced by a visit from Comet 46P/Wirtanen, which will make a close pass by the earth right in the middle of the month. We're eagerly keeping our eye on this comet because there's a chance it will become bright enough to see without a telescope! To be sure, comets can be a little wily and unpredictable - don't take this to the bookie's just yet - but we'll round up where to look and what to expect from our festive visitor. (For the impatient, here's everything you'll need to know about 46P/Wirtanen.

Comet 46P-Wirtanen will make a pass close to Earth in December 2018.
During the month of December, comet 46P/Wirtanen will drift across the evening sky West of the constellation Orion, going past Taurus and through Auriga. (Image credit: Tomruen)

December also brings us the Geminids, one of the most active of our yearly meteor showers. And of course, this month we'll address the real reason for the season - literally - as we welcome the winter solstice. The solstice is important not just astronomically but is also fundamentally important to much of the culture around our various celebrations of this time of year. The solstice brings out terms like "Sun-stands-still" (literally, sol-stice) and "unconquered Sun" (sol invictus). We also have this strange tendency of decorating and honoring plants like evergreen trees, holly, and mistletoe, which is all wrapped up in the astronomy of the Earth and Sun.

Come join us to get a view of the magnificent winter sky, without that unsightly frostbite! And lastly, whatever your motivations to celebrate, or not, I wish you warmth, peace, and comfort across our solstice this year!

Gateway to the Stars will be hosted by Nick Jarvis in the Hansen Dome Theater on December 1st, 2018, at 6:45 PM. Tickets are $2, or free for planetarium members. Get your tickets now.