The variable star Algol in Perseus reaches minimum brightness around p.
EST, when it shines at magnitude 3. If you start watching it after darkness falls, you can see it more than triple in brightness, to magnitude 2. This eclipsing binary star runs through a cycle from minimum to maximum and back every 2. Algol appears in the eastern sky after sunset and passes nearly overhead around 9 p.
The Pleiades star cluster also known as the Seven Sisters makes a wonderful target through binoculars on December evenings. The Last Quarter Moon is a great target many evening-only observers never see because it rises around midnight local time. This frame image shows great detail that just might inspire more early morning peeks at our nearest celestial neighbor. Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter.
The Sky This Week from October 4 to Picture of the Day Image Galleries. Learn about the Moon in a great new book. Dave's Universe Year of Pluto. Groups Why Join? Astronomy Day. Astronomy's Calendar. Winter solstice, which occurs when the Earth's North Pole is maximally tilted away from the Sun, marks the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
The photographer captured this beautiful image during the winter solstice on December 21, , just after sunset. At that moment, the Sun reaches its farthest point south in the sky. The solstice marks the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and tonight has more hours of darkness than any other. Saturday, December 22 Full Moon officially arrives at p. EST, but our satellite looks completely illuminated all night.
You can find it rising in the east just after sunset and peaking in the south shortly after midnight local time. It dips low in the west by the time morning twilight begins. As the Full Moon closest to the winter solstice, it climbs higher in the sky than any other Full Moon during the year. It lies among the background stars of western Gemini tonight, near the feet of the Twins. Sunday, December 23 Mercury remains a nice sight in predawn twilight for the next several days. Mercury shines at magnitude —0.
When viewed through a telescope, Mercury appears 6" across and shows a gibbous phase. The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, at a. Alternative terms, with no ambiguity as to which hemisphere is the context, are " June solstice " and " December solstice ", referring to the months in which they take place every year.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol "sun" and sistere "to stand still" , because at the solstices, the Sun's declination appears to "stand still"; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun's daily path as seen from Earth stops at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction. For an observer on the North Pole , the Sun reaches the highest position in the sky once a year in June.
The day this occurs is called the June solstice day. Similarly, for an observer on the South Pole , the Sun reaches the highest position on the December solstice day. When it is the summer solstice at one Pole, it is the winter solstice on the other.
FULL MOON in Cancer ~ December 22, ~ THEME: Solstice Illumination - Rising Woman
The Sun's westerly motion never ceases as Earth is continually in rotation. However, the Sun's motion in declination comes to a stop at the moment of solstice. In that sense, solstice means "sun-standing". This modern scientific word descends from a Latin scientific word in use in the late Roman Republic of the 1st century BC: solstitium. Pliny uses it a number of times in his Natural History with a similar meaning that it has today. It contains two Latin-language morphemes, sol , "sun", and -stitium , "stoppage".
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Relative velocity is the motion of an object from the point of view of an observer in a frame of reference. From a fixed position on the ground, the Sun appears to orbit around Earth. To an observer in an inertial frame of reference , planet Earth is seen to rotate about an axis and revolve around the Sun in an elliptical path with the Sun at one focus. Earth's axis is tilted with respect to the plane of Earth's orbit and this axis maintains a position that changes little with respect to the background of stars.
An observer on Earth therefore sees a solar path that is the result of both rotation and revolution. The component of the Sun's motion seen by an earthbound observer caused by the revolution of the tilted axis — which, keeping the same angle in space, is oriented toward or away from the Sun — is an observed daily increment and lateral offset of the elevation of the Sun at noon for approximately six months and observed daily decrement for the remaining six months.
At maximum or minimum elevation, the relative yearly motion of the Sun perpendicular to the horizon stops and reverses direction.
Outside of the tropics, the maximum elevation occurs at the summer solstice and the minimum at the winter solstice. The path of the Sun, or ecliptic , sweeps north and south between the northern and southern hemispheres. The days are longer around the summer solstice and shorter around the winter solstice. This is known as an equinox. There are two solstices and two equinoxes in a tropical year.
The seasons occur because the Earth's axis of rotation is not perpendicular to its orbital plane the plane of the ecliptic but currently makes an angle of about As a consequence, for half the year the Northern Hemisphere is inclined toward the Sun while for the other half year the Southern Hemisphere has this distinction. The two moments when the inclination of Earth's rotational axis has maximum effect are the solstices.
At the June solstice the subsolar point is further north than any other time: at latitude Similarly at the December solstice the subsolar point is further south than any other time: at latitude The subsolar point will cross every latitude between these two extremes exactly twice per year. Also during the June solstice, places on the Arctic Circle latitude That is the midnight sun or midsummer -night sun or polar day. On the other hand, places on the Antarctic Circle latitude That is the polar night.
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During the December Solstice, the effects on both hemispheres are just the opposite. This sees polar sea ice re-grow annually due to lack of sunlight on the air above and surrounding sea. Orientation of the terminator division between night and day depends on the season.
The Sky This Week from December 21 to December 30
Illumination of Earth by Sun on 21 June. The orientation of the terminator shown with respect to the Earth's orbital plane. Illumination of Earth by Sun on 21 December. Diagram of the Earth's seasons as seen from the north. Far right: southern solstice.
Diagram of the Earth's seasons as seen from the south. Far left: northern solstice. The concept of the solstices was embedded in ancient Greek celestial navigation. As soon as they discovered that the Earth is spherical  they devised the concept of the celestial sphere ,  an imaginary spherical surface rotating with the heavenly bodies ouranioi fixed in it the modern one does not rotate, but the stars in it do. As long as no assumptions are made concerning the distances of those bodies from Earth or from each other, the sphere can be accepted as real and is in fact still in use.
The stars move across the inner surface of the celestial sphere along the circumferences of circles in parallel planes  perpendicular to the Earth's axis extended indefinitely into the heavens and intersecting the celestial sphere in a celestial pole. Cleomedes states: . The term heliacal circle is used for the ecliptic, which is in the center of the zodiacal circle, conceived as a band including the noted constellations named on mythical themes. Other authors use Zodiac to mean ecliptic, which first appears in a gloss of unknown author in a passage of Cleomedes where he is explaining that the Moon is in the zodiacal circle as well and periodically crosses the path of the Sun.
As some of these crossings represent eclipses of the Moon, the path of the Sun is given a synonym, the ekleiptikos kuklos from ekleipsis , "eclipse". The two solstices can be distinguished by different pairs of names, depending on which feature one wants to stress. The solstices as well as the equinoxes mark the middle of the seasons in East Asian calendars. The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date day that such a passage happens.
The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some languages they are considered to start or separate the seasons; in others they are considered to be centre points in England , in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, the period around the northern solstice is known as midsummer. Midsummer's Day , defined as St. Johns Day by the Christian Church , is June 24, about three days after the solstice itself.
Similarly December 25 is the start of the Christmas celebration, and is the day the Sun begins to return to the Northern Hemisphere. The traditional British and Irish often main rent and meeting days of the year: "the usual quarter days " was at first those of the solstices and equinoxes. Many cultures celebrate various combinations of the winter and summer solstices, the equinoxes, and the midpoints between them, leading to various holidays arising around these events.
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During the southern or winter solstice , Christmas is the most widespread contemporary holiday, while Yalda , Saturnalia , Karachun , Hanukkah , Kwanzaa , and Yule are also celebrated around this time. For the northern or summer solstice , Christian cultures celebrate the feast of St. John from June 23 to 24 see St.
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For the vernal spring equinox, several springtime festivals are celebrated, such as the Persian Nowruz , the observance in Judaism of Passover , the rites of Easter in most Christian churches, as well as the Wiccan Ostara. The autumnal equinox is associated with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and the Wiccan Mabon. Further north, the Atacama people formerly celebrated this date with a noise festival, to call the Sun back.
Further east, the Aymara people celebrate their New Year on June A celebration occurs at sunrise, when the sun shines directly through the Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku. In the Hindu calendar , two sidereal solstices are named Makara Sankranti which marks the start of Uttarayana and Karka Sankranti which marks the start of Dakshinayana. The former occurs around January 14 each year, while the latter occurs around July 14 each year.
These mark the movement of the Sun along a sidereally fixed zodiac precession is ignored into Makara, the zodiacal sign which corresponds with Capricorn , and into Karka, the zodiacal sign which corresponds with Cancer , respectively. The Amundsen—Scott South Pole Station celebrates every year on June 21 a midwinter party, to celebrate that the Sun is at its lowest point and coming back. The reconstructed Cahokia Woodhenge , a large timber circle located at the Mississippian culture Cahokia archaeological site near Collinsville, Illinois ,  is the site of annual equinox and solstice sunrise observances.
Out of respect for Native American beliefs these events do not feature ceremonies or rituals of any kind. Unlike the equinox, the solstice time is not easy to determine. This difference is hardly detectable with indirect viewing based devices like sextant equipped with a vernier , and impossible with more traditional tools like a gnomon  or an astrolabe. Those accuracy issues render it impossible to determine the solstice day based on observations made within the 3 or even 5 days surrounding the solstice without the use of more complex tools.
Accounts do not survive but Greek astronomers must have used an approximation method based on interpolation, which is still used by some amateurs. This method consists of recording the declination angle at noon during some days before and after the solstice, trying to find two separate days with the same declination.