October 23, 2021

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The Christmas Night Sky: A 2020 Yuletide Stargazing Guide

7 min read

December is the month of the winter solstice, which a large part of mankind associates with such celebrations as Nativity festivals. The moment of the solstice occurred on Dec. 21 at 5:02 a.m EST (10:02 UT): The sun, appearing to travel along the ecliptic, reached that point in the sky where it is farthest south of the celestial equator.

The Yuletide evening sky is especially rewarding now. The eastern sky is filled with brilliant stars — sort of a celestial Christmas tree. Distinctive groupings of stars forming part of the recognized constellation outlines, or lying within their boundaries, are known as asterisms. Ranging in size from sprawling naked eye figures to minute stellar settings, they are found in every quarter of the sky and at all seasons of the year. The larger asterisms — ones like the Big Dipper in Ursa Major and the Great Square of Pegasus — are often better known than their host constellations. One of the most famous is in the northwest these frosty evenings.  

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