Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December Stargazing

The end of 2016 is upon us and much change is in store. Despite the events of the previous month, keep looking up!

Earliest Sunsets
The year's earliest sunsets come over the next couple of weeks, even though the shortest day of the year isn't until December 21, the winter solstice. The date of earliest sunset happens first at southern latitudes, then works northward.

Stargazing Summary
The Summer Triangle takes a bow as it prepares to exit the evening sky for another year. It's well up in the west as night falls, with Vega, its brightest member, forming the lower right point. It drops from view before midnight. In the meantime, Gemini climbs higher into the evening sky. Look for its "twins," the stars Pollux and Castor, low in the east at nightfall, with the rest of the constellation spreading above and to the right. The planets Venus and Mars move toward each other this month, with orange Mars to the upper left of Venus, the Evening Star. They'll pass each other in early 2017.

More stargazing information

Radio Program Highlights
If you want to start hearing the StarDate program in your area, you can request a station to carry our program by emailing the request to

December 1-4: Early to bed. The Sun is heading for bed earlier than at any other time of year about now, and we'll have details. We'll also talk about some super-fast clouds on the planet Venus. Join us for this and much more.

December 5-11: Off to war. The United States entered World War II 75 years ago this week, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Many astronomers joined the war effort, while a few kept their eyes on the stars. Join us for this and more.

December 12-18: Dark giant. A galaxy that glides across the southern sky on December nights is home to one of the biggest black holes yet seen — one that's thousands of times bigger than the central black hole in the Milky Way. Join us for this and more.

December 19-25: Holiday skies. This is a great week to enjoy the beautiful night sky, as the Moon passes by a bright star and planet, and the brilliant constellations of winter climb into view. Join us for holiday skies, plus a preview of spring skies.

December 26-31: Deep freeze. The realm beyond the Sun's major planets is filled with frigid balls of ice and rock, including the most famous of them all, Pluto. Join us for Pluto and much more in the deep freeze of the outer solar system.

Program schedule »

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Coming up in StarDate Magazine
Our next issue is the 2017 Sky Almanac. We'll bring you a year's worth of skywatching tips, skymaps, anniversaries in astronomy and space flight, and more.

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News from the Observatory
Massey, Armandroff to Lead GMT Board
The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) announced the appointment of Walter E. Massey, PhD, and McDonald Observatory Director Taft Armandroff, PhD, to the positions of Board Chair and Vice Chair, respectively. Continuing their involvement in new leadership capacities, Massey and Armandroff will guide the GMTO Board, overseeing the construction of the 24.5 meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in the Chilean Andes and working to complete the partnership of universities, research institutions and private donors who will contribute to the construction and operation of the GMT.

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