Astronomy Article and Sky Map for Tanzania for December 2010

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Astronomy Article and Sky Map for Tanzania for December 2010

Postby abuali » 14 Dec 2010, 14:53

December Night Skies over Tanzania
By Dr. N. T. Jiwaji

A total lunar eclipse of 21st December will bypass us completely, so except for the partial lunar eclipse in January, we will have to wait another six more months until June 15 2011, to see a spectacularly very deep total lunar eclipse centered almost directly over us.

More tangible is the Geminid Meteor Shower on the night of 13-14 December. Dust from space hitting our out atmosphere in the are of the Gemini constellation will cause meteors to appear to originate from that area of the sky. The Moon will have set just after midnight, which is the right time start watching the meteors since the Gemini constellation will be high in the sky. Find an area with minimum lights and get your eyes adapted and lie back on a mat to catch glimpse of these shooting stars that, according to some can make your wish come true!

Jupiter outshines all objects in the sky (except the Moon of course) and is high in the western sky, where is it more comfortable to watch. Even a small telescope will allow you to see the parallel stripes that show the equatorial clouds on Jupiter. Even more prominent are the four Galilean moons of Jupiter that appear as star like points through a telescope, strung in a line along the planet’s equator. Watching these over just a couple of hours can show their positions shifting, showing their movements around the giant planet, just as planets move around the Sun.

Mercury is at its peak and will soon glide down into the western horizon. If you can catch a glimpse of it through a telescope in the coming week just after sunset, you may be able to see its crescent phase, as its orbit is inside that of Earth’s.

The Moon was New on 6th December and will be in quarter phase (that is half shape) on13th when it will be closes to Jupiter also. Quarter phase is the best time to observe the Moon through a telescope since the long shows at the Moon’s light-dark edge is evening time there hence there are long shadows that highlight the lunar mountains and craters. Full Moon will be on 20th and last quarter on 28th December.

The night skies are beginning to display many prominent constellations in the sky, but to get the most enjoyment out of it this month, watch a bit late in the night. The brightest star in the sky is now quite prominent in the south-east as the neck star in the dog shaped constellation Canis Major (Big Dog). An arch of stars spanning eastwards reaching north among dense collection of stars of the Milky Way begins with Canis Major giving way to the magnificent Orion, the hunter, which in turn leads to Taurus the bull which contains the distinctly visible red giant star Aldebaran. The last two constellations in the arch are Perseus containing the famous variable star Algol and ending with M shaped Cassiopeia in the north. Close to Taurus is the famous star twinkling cluster, Plaiedes, also known as the ‘seven little sisters’. Just off the arch westwards but still close to the Milky Way can be found the Square of Pegasus. The Andromeda galaxy, which is 2 million light years away yet still just visible to the naked eye as a patch of nebulosity in dark skies, lies between the Square and Perseus, 40 degrees above the north horizon.

Among the most easily identifiable constellation is ORION which we see as a huge rectangle laying on its side in the eastern sky. It has two very bright stars at the end of its diagonals: Rigel on the top right and the giant star Betelgeuse sparkling red on the bottom left of Orion. The other diagonal is marked by three stars close together in the middle, called the ‘Belt of Orion’. It is embedded in a dense cloudy nebulosity of interstellar matter which is and active nursery of new stars as the inexorable pull of gravity gathers the pace after millions of years. The nebula in Orion can easily be made out with the naked eye and is breathtaking even in a modest pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

Among the Zodiacal constellations spanning east to west are Gemini the twins cutting into Taurus, leading to less prominent Aires, Pisces, Aquarius and Capricorn and ends with Saggitarius setting in the west swamped by sunlight. There are also several stars that you should try to identify because they are among the brightest in the sky. In the last half of the month Procyon rises in the south east with Sirus already high and Canopus in the south: these three brilliant stars form an almost straight line and together with Capella also rising in the north east, forms a reasonable right angle triangle.

The best time to watch the International Space Station this month is on 16th and 18th December. On both days it rises in the south west horizon and moves across the sky to the north east. On 16th it rises soon after 7:30 pm and glides across the sky for nearly five minutes as an extremely bright star. On 18th it rises just after 6:45 pm and is in the sky for five minutes also. Check the exact time at: by entering your location.


december sky map 2010 ver 13 small.jpg

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