The December solstice 2013 ushered in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter season about a week ago. The New Year 2014 is nearly upon us. As the year wanes, look for the the slender waning crescent moon before sunrise on December 30. And, though winter’s grip is firm on the northern half of the globe, the first sign of northern summer can be glimpsed near that slim and fragile December 30 moon.
We’re talking about the red supergiant star Antares, the brightest in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Antares is a summer star. But it’s up before dawn each northern winter. Wake up 90 to 60 minutes before sunrise to catch it glimmering low in the sky and close to the southeast horizon.
Spotting Antares before sunrise in the winter predawn sky holds the promise of summer’s eventual return – although the hot season is still a long ways off for us in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer won’t be here until we see Antares over southeast horizon right at nightfall. That won’t happen for another six months, or around the June solstice.
In six months, the Earth travels halfway around the sun relative the backdrop stars of the Zodiac. That’s why Antares is seen just before sunrise at this time of year, yet shortly after sundown some six months from now.
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, Antares serves as your winter star. So when people at southerly latitudes see Antares close to the waning crescent moon tomorrow, on December 30, they’ll see promise of winter – instead of summer – in their predawn sky.
Bottom line: No matter where you live worldwide, look first for the waning crescent moon low in the east dawn on December 30. Then search near that thin moon for the nearby star Antares. We glimpse this star only briefly before dawn at this time of year. By six months from now, Antares will faithfully shine from dusk until dawn.