It seems paradoxical. At middle latitudes in the U.S. – and throughout the Northern Hemisphere – the earliest sunsets of the year come about two weeks before the solstice and the shortest day of the year. They’re happening around now for middle latitudes of the United States, and around the world.
UPDATE DECEMBER 6, 2013. As Comet ISON pulled away from the sun on November 30, it first brightened and then faded again. For many days now, it has seemed likely that Comet ISON has become little more than a traveling field of debris in space, still following the path of the original comet. Scientists originally said that – if it had not fragmented, if it had maintained its solid nucleus or core – Comet ISON would have become visible again in Earth’s skies beginning around December 3. That has not happened. We have not seen any photos of ISON taken from Earth, so far, since the comet got too close to the sun to see from Earth, in late November.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has obtained the highest-resolution movie yet of a unique six-sided jet stream, known as the hexagon, around Saturn’s north pole.
Sorry fellow humans but, contrary to the popular idiom, we aren’t at “the top of the food chain.” It turns out we’re actually somewhere in middle. So says a 49-year analysis of human food consumption across 176 of the world’s 196 countries.
On December 3, 2013, astronomers from the U.S. and Japan used a wide-field camera on the orbiting Subaru Telescope to capture this beautiful image of the tail of Comet Lovejoy. At that time, the comet was 50 million miles (80 million km) from Earth and 80 million miles (130 million km) from the sun. As Comet ISON has fizzled, Comet Lovejoy has become a big attraction to those willing to search for it in dark skies of Earth.
By all accounts, Comet ISON has faded and disintegrated. It is now thought to be a traveling debris field, not at all likely to become visible in earthly skies. But consider another comet that has lurked quietly – but visibly – in Earth’s late night and morning skies throughout November and early December. C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) became visible to the unaided eye on November 1. It made its closest approach to Earth on November 19. It will be closest to the sun on December 25. Many have captured Comet Lovejoy’s photo. The Big Dipper can help you see it in December, 2013.
Multi-layered lenticular cloud hovers near the Mount Discovery volcano in this photo taken from a NASA research flight over Antarctica.
Venus reaches its greatest illuminated extent in the evening sky on December 6, 2013. That means the planet’s daytime side is covering more square area of sky than at any other time during Venus’ present apparition as the “evening star.” And it means that Venus is brighter now than at any other time during this evening apparition.
The discovery of a giant planet orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance has astronomers puzzled over how such a strange system came to be.
The 2013 Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of December 13-14, though the night before (December 12-13) should offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well. The sky attraction starts at mid-to-late evening and ends at dawn. The meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night. No matter where you live worldwide, look for these meteors to fall most abundantly in the wee hours after midnight, centered on 2 a.m. local time. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Geminid meteor shower in 2013!