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LATEST AUDIO > December 2014 | LATEST VIDEO > LOFAR
 

The night sky for November 2014

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during December 2014.

During the later evening, the Great Square of Pegasus is setting towards the west, with the constellation of Andromeda above and to its left. The W-shape of Cassiopeia is higher still, with Perseus just below and the Perseus Double Cluster between them. Below Perseus is Auriga, containing the bright star Capella, while Orion the Hunter is rising in the south-east. The three stars of Orion's Belt point down to Sirius, the brightest night-time star. Taurus the Bull is between Orion and Perseus, hosting the open clusters of the Pleiades and Hyades, as well as the red star Aldebaran, which appears to be part of the Hyades but is actually just lying along the same line of sight from Earth. Gemini is to the left of Orion, with the stars of Castor and Pollux representing the Twins. Rising later are Cancer, home to the Beehive Cluster, and Leo, the current residence of the planet Jupiter.

The Planets

Highlights

Southern Hemisphere

Claire Bretherton from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during December 2014.

The nights are at their shortest on the 22nd and the night sky is dominated by the constellations of Taurus, Orion, Canis Major and Canis Minor. In Greek mythology, Orion the Hunter is the enemy of Scorpius the Scorpion, and so the two appear on opposite sides of the sky. The figure of Orion appears upside-down to southern hemisphere observers. The line of three stars forming his Belt are historically known in Aotearoa (New Zealand) as Tautoru, and his Sword and Belt together are sometimes seen as a pot or saucepan. Prominent in the middle of the Sword is the Orion Nebula, M42, a star formation region that looks like a fuzzy star to the naked eye but a beautiful region of nebulosity and young stars in a telescope or binoculars. At its heart is the Trapezium Cluster, a tight group of stars whose ulraviolet radiation makes the surrounding gas glow. The reflection nebula M78 can also be found in Orion using a small telescope, and the Horsehead Nebula, a dark region in the bright nebula of IC 434, lies south of the star Alnitak in Orion's Belt. The blue-white supergiant Rigel, at the top-left, is the brightest star in Orion, while the aging red giant Betelgeuse, at the bottom-right, is the second-brightest.

Following Orion's Belt to the right leads to Sirius, known to Maori as Takurua, which is the brightest star in the night sky. It is in Canis Major, the larger of Orion's two Hunting Dogs, and Canis Minor, the Smaller Dog is lower down, near the eastern horizon in the later evening. The brightest star in Canis Minor is Procyon, which is actually a binary system consisting of a main-sequence star and a white dwarf companion. To the left of Orion's Belt is the V-shape of stars representing the head and horns of Taurus the Bull. The Hyades Cluster resides here, and is one of the closest open star clusters to the Earth. Continuing around the sky, the Pleiades Cluster is another open cluster full of young, blue stars. In New Zealand it is called Matariki, meaning Little Eyes or Eyes of God, and its first pre-dawn appearance in June marks the start of the Maori year. The Milky Way stretches through these constellations and along the southern horizon, and along this line is the constellation Crux, currently low in the south-east later in the night. Beside it is the dark Coalsack Nebula, an interstellar cloud of gas and dust that obscures the stars beyond. To Maori it is Te Patiki, the Flounder.

The Planets

Highlights

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The Night Sky This Month is one part of the Jodcast. The full show contains the latest news, interviews with astronomers, answers to listener questions and more.

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