Friday, January 27, 2006

December 7, 2000

At mid-day on Christmas, the Moon will partially eclipse the Sun. Is this a fond farewell to the Twentieth Century, or a hale hello to the Twenty-First? Take your pick: At peak eclipse, the Sun will be half covered, or half-uncovered, as you prefer!

Never look at the Sun unless you use a filter of which you are certain, since you can permanently damage your eyes even when the Sun is eclipsed or behind a cloud. Pick up a piece of #13 or #14 welder's glass at any welding supply store. Special solar viewers are available from reputable optics suppliers; consult www.skypub.com. Even with a filter, do not stare; only glance.

The safest way to view the Moon taking a bite out of the Sun is via projection through a pinhole in a south-facing window shade onto a white surface. The eclipse begins at 11:15 a.m., with maximum at 12:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, the nighttime is aglow with marvels. The brightest evening "star" in the southeast is Jupiter. Tonight it is smack-dab between the glittery Pleiades above and reddish Aldebaran below. Saturn is to the right of the Pleiades.

Mighty Orion strides over the eastern horizon as night falls, bringing winter with him, which officially begins at 8:37 a.m. on the 21st.

The brightest evening "star" in the whole sky is Venus, setting in the southwest. Don't miss its pairing with a crescent Moon on the 29th.

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