20 December 2011

The Longest Night and the Early Morning Darkness

Winter Solstice brings us a long night, but not the latest sunrise. That comes in a couple weeks, for reasons too complex to explain here. The advanced student can follow this link to the EarthSky blog, or this one to Astroprofs. With the late sunrise, around 7:20 am this week in San Francisco, we have plenty of darkness in the morning to see the waning crescent Moon pass by some very fine morning stars and by the planet Mercury.

Morning skies offer a particularly beautiful view of the heavens, as the atmosphere is generally calm and often the sky clears as moisture and dust settle. Some of the bright urban lights that were glowing in the evening are switched off late at night.

The Big Dipper is high in the north-east by early morning as winter starts, and the brilliant winter constellations and stars punctuate the view overhead and to the west.

Weekdays I don't usually have time for a full viewing session early in the morning, but that doesn't stop me from stepping outside for a brief look around the sky. Try this for yourself when you first get up. You'll be impressed with the view, even in a big city like San Francisco.

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

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