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Sirius midnight culmination New Years Eve

Looking for information on the comet? Try this post.

Tonight – New Year’s Eve – look up for the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. This star is up in the evening every year at this time, and – from all parts of Earth (except those far-southern realms in continuous daylight now) – Sirius is easy to identify. December 31 is a special night, the end of a calendar year. And it’s a special night for Sirius, too. This star’s official midnight culmination – when it’s highest in the sky at midnight – comes only once every year. And tonight’s the night.

Sirius will be out for most of the night. But before you look it, on the eve of the New Year, look for the waxing crescent moon beneath the planets Venus and Mars at nightfall.

Live by the moon! EarthSky moon calendar for 2017

The moon appears at early evening, beneath the planets Venus and Mars. You need an optical aid to see Neptune.

This chart is for Saturday evening, just after sunset. Will you see the moon? Maybe. Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková will be right next to the moon on this date (try this other chart), but not visible to the eye. Likewise, Neptune requires optical aid.

Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona caught Neptune and its moon Triton near Mars on December 30, 2016. He wrote about this photo: “24 X 36 mp Nikon D810 images captured with a Nikon 180 mm F2.8, 0.5 sec @ ISO 3200 stacked and then deconvoluted.”

This view of the moon and planets are special to this year, but Sirius’ presence as the New Year’s star is a yearly event. The New Year always begins with Sirius’ culmination at the midnight hour. It’s a fun sky event to watch for, if you happen to be outside at midnight on this night.

From the Northern Hemisphere … look toward the south, and you’ll easily notice Sirius shining there at around midnight.

From the Southern Hemisphere … look overhead or high in the north at around midnight.

This star is so bright that you might notice it twinkling fiercely, especially from northerly latitudes, where the star stays closer to the horizon.

You might even see it flashing different colors – just hints of colors from red to blue – like the celestial counterpart to an earthly diamond.

Not sure you’ve found Sirius? The 3 stars of Orion’s Belt always point to it. This photo comes from EarthSky Facebook friend Susan Jensen in Odessa, Washington.

By the way, by midnight, we mean the middle of the night, midway between sunset and sunrise.

The midnight culmination of Sirius by the clock may be off by as much as one-half hour or so, depending on how far east or west you live from the meridian that governs your time zone.

Transit (midnight culmination) times for Sirius in your sky

Bottom line: If you’re celebrating the New Year tonight, and you happen to gaze up at the sky, look for Sirius – and take a moment to celebrate the sky’s brightest star.

Looking for information on the comet? Try this post.

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Deborah Byrd

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