Why is the sky important?

We often don’t think about the sky above us as a part of the ecosystem other than when weather is involved. But it is! People have used stars and other objects in the sky for thousands and thousands of years to help them navigate, tell time, know when to plant crops, and create folklore and art. In fact, many animals use the sky for travelling and telling time!

Of course, the sky is also home to our Moon, an important force in many aspects of life on Earth. The Sun is also a vital part of life, as it gives energy to the planet.

Learn with us, with help from Jeff Hutton, an avid astronomer and Berea community member, about the sky above us and how it connects to the ecosystem and ourselves.

Click HERE for astronomical activities Jeff has written and shared with us.

Click HERE for a PRINTABLE PDF of this month’s article.

December Skies Above the Pinnacles

December’s four principal phases of the moon

 

If you’re a fan of old radio shows, you might recognize this phrase following the question: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!” I don’t know about evil detection but we can learn some interesting things from shadows.

The next evening the air is very clear and there are no clouds, look toward the east, down low near the horizon. Right after sunset you may see a band of darker sky hugging the horizon, usually with a pink band above and the fading blue sky above that. The low, dark band is called the Belt of Venus. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with that planet. As the sun sets, the solid body of our planet blocks sunlight from illuminating the atmosphere and we see the shadow of the Earth. Keep watching. You’ll see the Belt of Venus rise up higher as more of the Sun’s light is blocked as we head toward nighttime.

 

The Earth’s shadow doesn’t stop at our own atmosphere. The darkest part of Earth’s shadow extends about 1.4 million kilometers into space and always points away from the Sun. Think of a giant ice cream cone with the Earth in the opening and the point extending out into space, opposite the Sun.

From time to time, the Moon’s orbit brings it through Earth’s shadow and we get to see our planet’s shadow as it points away from the Sun and out into space. The Moon takes on a reddish color because most of the sunlight reaching the Moon has gone through Earth’s atmosphere and gets tinted red and orange, the same red and orange we enjoy at sunrise and sunset. I took this picture at about 4 AM on November 19th.

But look closely at this image. Sometimes the blue scattered sunlight that makes our skies blue makes it to the Moon during an eclipse and we can see a pale blue band at the edge of the reddish part of the shadow.

 

You can even see the curvature of the Earth by the shape of the shadow on the Moon (Flat-Earthers hate this). I made this image 50 minutes after the one above was taken.

I love putting things into human perspective. Here’s a picture of the moon taken at the same time as the one above but how it appeared to the eye. You can se emy neighbor’s roof at the bottom.

Even a rainbow has an antisolar point. Because the sun is above the horizon, the antisolar point is below the horizon.

 

 

Attractions in December

All Month

Jupiter, Saturn and Venus will grace the sky just above your southwestern horizon. Think of this as an Advent gift!

December 6th

Binocular Alert! Look for brilliant Venus just above the thin crescent Moon.

December 14th

The Earth passes through the swarm of space dust (as it does every year) and we sill be treated to the annual Geminid meteor shower. The Moon will set around 3 AM, just about the right time for your your warm bed to enjoy some “shooting stars.” Despite the cold, this shower is one of the best. You might see up to 50 meteors per hour. See my August 2021 “Skies” article below for tips on successful meteor watching.

December 16th

Once again, see the almost full moon making a visit between the Pleaides and V-shaped Hyades star clusters in the constellation Taurus.

December 21th

On this day, the Earth’s northern hemisphere is pointed as far away from the direction of the sun as it ever gets. Yes, it’s the Winter Solstice and winter is here!

December 25th

Merry Christmas!

December 29th

Binocular Alert! Scan the southwestern horizon Venus and fainter Mercury just after the sun sets.

For more detailed celestial information, check out skyandtelescope.org.

CLICK HERE for a PRINTABLE PDF

Keep Looking Up!

Jeff

 

Click HERE for fun and educational astronomy activities provided by Jeff Hutton!

Thanks to Jeff Hutton! Jeff is a long time amateur astronomer and telescope builder. He volunteers his time to offer many great programs at the FOC.