The December solstice is coming! At 4:03 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on December 21st, the Sun reaches its most distant point south in 2014, as viewed from Earth. This defines the December solstice, which is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere.
With fewer hours of sunlight during autumn the nights grow longer and there is a distinct chill in the air after the sun sets. You may notice the sky appears darker and the stars just a little clearer. A star chart or an astronomy app for a phone or tablet will guide you to the fall constellations and many of the stars visible in our skies.
On these late October evenings, you may see a hazy band of light stretching from the southwestern horizon and crossing overhead to the northeast. This is the Milky Way, an object of great wonder throughout human existence.
Next time you see the Big Dipper out of the corner of your eye, take a look at the star in the middle of the handle. If you have decent eyesight, you may see not one, but two stars: a brighter star known as Mizar, and a fainter star called Alcor.
"BORING!" said the 5-year-old of the little blue dot appearing through the telescope…
Perhaps at first glance, but considering that Neptune, the 8th planet, is 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, it’s actually an amazing sight. At approximately 2.8 billion miles away, it cannot be observed with the un-aided eye. Seeing the disk and color requires a moderately sized telescope, and a keen-eyed astronomy buff.
We learn in grade school that the Moon, our nearest neighbor in space, causes tides on the Earth’s oceans. It does so through its gravitational attraction to the Earth. But the gravitation interplay between Earth and Moon has other, subtler effects as well.