December NIight Sky 2010!

-By Er. Rishi Shah

As darkness descends on earth the night sky becomes alive with twinkling stars, gleaming planets and other arcane entities that cover the entire sky magnificently. The zodiacal constellations of Capricornus (sea goat), Aquarius (water bearer), Pisces (fishes), Aries (ram), Taurus (bull) and Gemini (twins) are sprawling across the sky from western to eastern horizon. The Great Square of Pegasus (winged horse) is flying high dominatingly in evening sky. Constellations Andromeda (chained princess), Perseus (legendary hero), Lynx (feline animal), Camelopardalis (giraffe) and Auriga (charioteer) are unfurling towards northeast from Pegasus. Fulgent Capella (Brahma Ridaya) decorates Auriga. It is significantly fourty two light-years away. Constellations Orion (hunter), Eridanus (river), Cetus (whale) and Monoceros (unicorn) are spreading across southeastern sky. Circumpolar constellations Draco (dragon), Cepheus (king) , Cassiopeia (queen) and Ursa Major (big bear) are circling Polaris, Pole Star (Dhruba Tara) that resides in Ursa Minor (little bear). Elephant’s Trunk Nebula pushes enigmatically through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC1396 in Cepheus (king). Within the raw cosmic dusty debris weird proto-stars are lurking in this region. It is three thousand light-years away.

Elusive planet Mercury could be glimpsed in western sky after sundown during beginning of month. Later towards month’s end, it could be discerned in eastern sky before sunup, as it fleets across Sagittarius (archer). Wandering in Virgo, romantic planet mesmerizes planet-hunters with its charming brilliance in eastern sky before sunrise. Resplendent star Spica floats enthrallingly above it. Ringed planet Saturn glitters gorgeously below Spica. Mighty planet Jupiter shines alluringly after nightfall among the stars inhabiting the border between Aquarius and Pisces. Both Jupiter and greenish planet Uranus are relaxing below the Circlet asterism of Pisces. Jupiter’s Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) can be admired well with binoculars.

Astronomers have allegedly detected the first alien Jupiter-alike exo-planet HIP13044b revolving around a dying star HIP13044. It had entered our galaxy during the unfortunate process of intergalactic cannibalism that perhaps happened fairly between six to nine billion years ago.

Our Sun has been converting hydrogen in its core into helium for the last 4.5 billion years and would continue to do so for next five billion years until its hydrogen fuel is exhausted. The Sun would then turn into formidable gigantic red giant star and expand beyond earth’s orbit. It would gobble up the inner planets (Mercury and Venus) including earth.

Before notoriously breaking up and disintegrating in awesome fiery sparks during its reentry into upper atmosphere above the desert in central Australia, the refrigerator-sized aluminum-bodied Japanese space probe Hayabusa (meaning falcon in Japanese) jettisoned its fourty centimeter return capsule that was equipped with high-tech heat shield and parachute and had carried dust samples gathered directly from perplexingly peanut-shaped near-earth asteroid Itokawa. It landed unprecedentedly on thinly populated military-testing zone in Southern Australia outback known as the Woomera Prohibited Area in June this year. Hayabusa needed seven years to complete its six billion kilometers space journey to cruse untiringly to the asteroid and back to earth. Strict precaution were undertaken to minimize the risk of contamination of cosmic flakes by terrestrial substance.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had launched Hayabusa in 2003. It rende zvoused (touch downed twice) with Itokawa in 2005. Its roller coaster ride-mimicking mission was beset with harrowing mishaps. En route to Itokawa, its solar cells were damaged by powerful solar flare. With limited energy supply it had to limp to the asteroid and crawled back to earth as fuel cells were dysfunctional thereby protracting total travel period. When it was parked in the vicinity of Itokawa, its altitude adjustment error ejected the exploration robot MINERVA that tumbled aimlessly into space.

Hayabusa’s precious cargo could probably disclose in detail Itokawa’s composition, physical features and topological structures. The detrimental effects on asteroid from space weathering and interaction with solar winds could be expounded. Since asteroids are the rocky leftover building blocks of planets and moons, Hayabusa’s findings could bestow distinctive insight into the formative years of our Solar System. The state of the capsule could lead to novel engineering advances that could be beneficial to future space missions for manufacturing better heat shields for spacecrafts.

New moon falls on 05 December, while full moon (popularly nicknamed cold full moon) would entrance moon-lovers on 21 December. Winter Solstice occurs in Northern Hemisphere at 23:38 hours Universal Time (UTC) on 21 December, when we can enjoy the longest night and shortest day of the year. Total lunar eclipse on 21 December will not be visible to us. It could be enjoyed from many parts of Europe, America, West Africa, eastern Australia and eastern and northern Asia. Christmas is joyfully celebrated on 25 December. 31 December marks the last day of year 2010. The accompanying star map approximately portrays night sky above Kathmandu at around twenty hours local time during mid-December 2010.


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