December 2017 Night Skies
Holiday Astronomy Field Trips
December truly is a new season. The nights of the bright Milky Way give way to views out into the Universe. After a stunning conjunction with Venus in mid-November, Jupiter along with Mars climb higher into the morning sky. While Saturn, a fixture of the evening sky for almost an entire year, becomes lost in the Sun’s glare along with Mars and Mercury. Only Uranus and Neptune are left to reign in the evening sky, just out of reach of our eyesight.
With kids out of school for part of this month, it only seems fitting to turn their eyes toward the heavens by visiting places here on Earth. Here in the Front Range we have at least two active planetariums at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder. Shows cover a huge spectrum of topics about the cosmos from supervolcanoes to solar superstorms, exploring the solar system to black holes with a dose of laser light and tours of the night sky.
If your child’s tastes run more toward the hands-on, a visit to Space Odyssey at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science may fit the bill where one can explore multiple worlds on the science on a sphere exhibit. One of my favorites is trying to dock a shuttle and who doesn’t like seeing their family in infrared light.
Wings Over the Rockies air and space museum also draws would-be astronauts with its “Be The Astronaut” exhibit. Astronauts learn the basics of celestial navigation, basic science and modules geared at driving planetary rovers and interplanetary spaceships.
This is a perfect time of year, warm by our fires, to become better at identifying the season’s stars and constellations or learn about the stories of the heavens; not only the stories from the Greek and Roman Western viewpoint but also the sky epics of the Native American, African or Asian storytellers.
If you still want to brave the cold evenings, have your children point out the Belt of Orion, the “W” of Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper as it makes its round of Polaris and rises in the east, or the seventh, dimmest sister of the Pleiades. The Sun also has been active. Watch the skies and maybe an aurora will grace the skies as far south as Colorado.