Party With The Stars on New Year's
If you're out New Year's Eve waiting for a ball drop, look up at the night sky and see things really worth celebrating. The starry night sky awaits.
To the south is the most prominent constellation of the winter sky, Orion the Hunter. Three belt stars in Orion are flanked by the red giant Betelgeuse and blue giant Rigel. Since you're gazing at Orion anyhow, why not contribute your observation to the GLOBE at Night campaign, which measures the quality of the night sky worldwide? I thank you in advance.
If you follow the three belt stars of Orion down and to the left you reach the brightest star in the night sky. It's name? "I'm not kidding, it's time to get...Sirius."
To the northwest are two celebration stars for 2016. In the constellation Cassiopeia is the star Ruchbah, which at 100 light years away can be deemed the Star of the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS and Indiana State Parks are both celebrating their centennial year in 2016.
In the Great Square of Pegasus, which can be seen better if you go out earlier than midnight, is the star Scheat, which at 200 light years away can be deemed Indiana's Bicentennial Star. The light that left the star when Indiana became a state in 1816 is just now reaching our eyes.
Stay up late, or get up early before twilight. To the east four hours later (4 AM on New Year's Day), the moon and the planets Jupiter and Mars are up. The bright star Arcturus holds a special treat today. To find it, follow the curve of the Big Dipper's handle and "arc to Arcturus." If you look at Arcturus with a pair of binoculars or a telescope, you may see Comet Catalina astride Arcturus. What a way to open the New Year!
A little later, as morning twilight washes out the subtle light of the comet, brilliant Venus rises with Saturn behind it. Look at that morning line-up: Jupiter, Moon, Mars, Venus, and Saturn. Of course, the less-obscured your eastern horizon the better.
All year long you can find northern constellations, which appear to spin around Polaris, using a home-made star finder. Make your own Platisphere out of a paper plate, and you're good for a year of navigating by the stars.
Happy New Orbit around the sun. A leap year begins in 2016.