Former University of Maine Professor Jack Battick alerted me to the doings of the Eagle Hill Institute in the field of astronomy. The institute is a scholarly research center located on the coast of Maine between the Schoodic Point section of Acadia National Park and the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. Among its many activities is the Eagle Hill Supernova Search Project, a team headed up by 10-year supernova hunter Doug Rich, who has a total of 23 supernova discoveries to his credit. The latest find by the team is supernova SN2013ga discovered on Oct. 20, 2013 in a galaxy in the constellation Lacerta about 200 million light years from Earth. Those interested in knowing more about the Eagle Hill Institute can write to P.O. Box 9, Steuben, ME 04680, call at 546-2821, or by email at email@example.com.
Focus on the planets
Mercury rises in the southeast at dawn where it hovers to the immediate lower left of the moon on Dec. 1.. Mercury will drop lower on the horizon each morning and will disappear from view by midmonth.
Venus dominates low in the southwest at sunset where it is at its brightest for the year. On a dark night, and with a blanket of fresh white snow, you may be able to see your shadow by the light of Venus Shine.
Mars is located in the south shortly after midnight where the Red Planet will gain in brightness over the course of the month. Mars is still so far distant that it will appear as little more than a reddish-orange dot to most observers.
Jupiter rises around 7 p.m. as December opens and at sunset by month’s end. With peak visibility fast approaching, December is a perfect month to observe surface features as well as the dance of its four major moons as they cast shadows across the face of the giant planet.
Saturn may be found low in the southeast during the predawn hours where its rings are open for excellent viewing.
Uranus and Neptune may be found in the south-southwest as darkness falls. The blue-gray disk of Neptune and the blue-green disk of Uranus are in Aquarius and Pisces respectively and may be located with the aid of finder’s charts at skypub.com/urnep.
4: The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to the Earth today.
6: Venus hovers to the lower right of the crescent moon an hour after sunset on Dec. 6. This will mark the brightest point for the appearance of the “evening star” this winter.
9: Moon in first quarter, 10:12 a.m.
14: This is the peak night for the Geminid meteor shower. Although a waxing gibbous moon will wash out many of the meteors until it sets around 4:00 a.m., observers may expect roughly half of the usual 120 sightings per hour. The meteors will originate from the region of Castor and Pollux as bright, medium-speed, and leaving an occasional persistent trail.
17: Full moon, 4:28 a.m. The full moon of December is the Cold Moon and is also known as the Long Night Moon and the Moon Before Yule.
18: Jupiter shines just to the upper left of the nearly-full moon in the east-northeast around 7 p.m. The sun enters Sagittarius on the ecliptic.
19: The moon is at apogee, or farthest distance from Earth today. This is the date of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman holiday.
21: Winter solstice, 12:11 a.m. The sun has reached it most southern point below the celestial equator, making this the first official day of winter in the northern hemisphere. The sun enters the astrological sign of Capricornus at the solstice but, astronomically, has just entered Sagittarius.
22: This is the peak night for the Ursid meteor shower. About 10 meteors per hour is the average with infrequent higher spikes. This year the waning gibbous moon will cancel out all but the first evening hours to watch for the faint, fairly slow meteors.
25: Moon in last quarter, 8:49 a.m. Merry Christmas!
31: Sunrise, 7:13 a.m.; sunset, 4:04 p.m.
Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402.