ANNOUNCEMENT: Our main telescope, the Celestron C14 Classic that has occupied the center place on the observing deck since Hyde Observatory opened 39 years ago, was decommissioned and removed on October 27. It had served long and honorably, but was growing old, cranky and technologically outdated. Its replacement scope is nearing the end of manufacturing in California and is due to be shipped to us in mid-December. We plan to install it over the holidays and it should see First Light in early January, 2017. Meanwhile, we will be viewing the sky through our two remaining telescopes, the 9.25-inch and 11.0-inch Celestrons.
December, 2016 Programs
#1 — THE AUTUMN CONSTELLATIONS
Locate the mythical figures in the current sky above Lincoln, and learn their legends. Then, weather permitting, take a guided tour of the sky on the terrace behind the observatory with one of our volunteers who will show you how to locate the important stars and objects in the current night sky. Running time: 19 minutes. (Our Autumn Constellations program shows the sky during Astronomical Autumn, which continues until Winter Solstice, December 21. So, while it might feel like a Nebraska winter out there, we’re talking about the sky, not the weather!)
#2 — COMING ATTRACTIONS TRAILER: ECLIPSE 2017
On August 21, 2017, Lincoln will see its first total solar eclipse since the year 1442 (long before there was a Lincoln, or a Nebraska!) This trailer explains why total solar eclipses are so rare, what to expect, and how to prepare for the eclipse. Running time: 10 minutes.
December Objects in the Hyde Telescopes
Planets: Three planets visible without a telescope are in the evening sky this month. Venus is by far the brightest, at a brilliant -4.4 magnitude by the end of December. And, it is almost as high in the sky (away from the sun) as it ever gets, riding in the southwest for almost 4 hours after sunset. Through Hyde’s telescopes, Venus will appear as a gibbous (at the start of the month) but diminish to a half-lit globe by the end of December. Alas, we are looking at its almost featureless cloudtops, so there is virtually no detail, no matter what the magnification. To Venus’s right, and much lower to the horizon, much fainter Mercury appears during the first 2 weeks of December. It reaches greatest eastern elongation, when it appears highest in the sky, on December 10. It sets about an hour after the sun at mid-month, but then dives down and disappears from view by the end of December. Mars remains low in the south-southwest throughout the month, but it is racing away from us, growing fainter and smaller with each passing night. It looks like a tiny orange marble in telescopes, offering little to no surface detail. Jupiter is well up in the east before dawn, and Saturn begins to pull out of dawnlight by the end of the month, but both of these planets are strictly morning objects, not visible during the observatory’s evening operating hours.
The Moon: The best time this month to view the moon in Hyde’s telescopes on public nights is Saturday, December 3, a crescent about 4 days after new moon, and the 10th, about midway between 1st quarter and full moon. The moon will be past full phase on December 17th, not a bad time to view it through a telescope, but it will rise just a half hour before the observatory’s 10:00 p.m. closing time.
Deep sky objects (stars, galaxies and nebulae) will be on full display in December.
The observatory will be closed on Saturday nights December 24, Christmas Eve, and December 31, New Year’s Eve. We will re-open on Saturday night, January 7, 2017.