In the coming nights, Thacher explains, two of the brightest objects in the skySaturn and Jupiterare getting closer and closer and closer together.
On Monday, Dec. 21, the night of the winter solstice, the two planets will be closer together than they have been in 800 years, forming a single, bright object that some are referring to as a Christmas star.
It should be an amazing sight! Thacher exclaims.
The Smith College senior laboratory instructor, who has written dozens of articles introducing young people to scientific concepts, is the author of a new book, Sky Gazing, published this fall by Storey Publishing.
Building on her book, Thacher offers these tips for viewing the once-in-a-lifetime December 21 Saturn/Jupiter conjunction:
Illustration by NASA/JPL-Caltech
But dont stop watching after Monday! Thacher adds.
In the nights after December 21, these two planets will still appear very bright, and well be able to watch them moving apart from each other before they disappear behind the Sun in mid-January. (Stars are constantthey stay in one position relative to each other, even as they rise and set, Thacher notes. But its cool to be able to see planetslike Saturn and Jupitermove around among the stars.)
And in January, star gazers will be able to see the Orion constellationwhich is easily recognizable, and very brightand use it to find five nearby constellations: Canis Major, Canis Minor, Gemini, Auriga, and Taurus.
Thacherwho fell in love with astronomy because of two great teachershopes that Mondays celestial spectacle might help introduce young peopleand adults, tooto the joys available in the stars and planets, and the other wonders of the night sky. And thats the goal of her book, too.
I want to make astronomy as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, she explains. Star gazing is easy, she says. All you need is your eyes.
Thachers book aims to make astronomy super accessible. Written for children in fourth through ninth gradesbut accessible to younger and older readers, toothe book has six chapters, and each chapter is about a different type of object: the Moon, the Sun, planets, stars, constellations..
The book also offers information on how to observe special celestial eventscomets, eclipses and meteor showers.
In addition to laying out when and what to look for, Sky Gazing also offers information about how to see thingswhich really isnt hard. Astronomy is easy; you dont even need a telescope, Thacher explains. All you have to do is go outside and look up. And youll see astronomy all around you.
Astronomy is easy to fall in love with, Thacher explains, because its a science of extremes. We deal with things that are really big, she laughs, and really old. Really far. There are billions of stars in the galaxy, billions of galaxies in the universe.Astronomy is really big and excitingthats why kids get interested in it.
And astronomy is a gateway science, Thacher adds: Once someone becomes interested in the stars, they become interested in the sciences that make up astronomyphysics, chemistry, math and more.
Really, all that has to happen, Thacher says, is that kids learn about astronomy, and theyll look up at the sky more often. And then they discover that they love the stars, and they love science!
The world needs more scientists, she adds. So looking up at the stars is a really good thing.
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