On the first Saturday of every month we post educational skywatching notes for the homeschool month ahead.
There’s going to be a somewhat rare event taking place this Wednesday–Thursday night (7–8 December): a lunar occultation (eclipse) of Mars. Observers in most of North America will be able to watch Mars disappear behind the moon and then reappear a few minutes later. Check the EarthSky website for all the details and take your students outside for a look!
Here’s the regular monthly northern hemisphere night-sky review for December 2022 from the Hubble Space Telescope’s website — it features December constellations and concludes (appropriately enough) with our term-namesake, Orion:
And here’s another December night-sky review, courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California — it features December planets and the upcoming occultation of Mars:
One of the easiest astronomical exercises you and your students can do each month is print out your own copy of the current two-page Evening Sky Map and monthly sky calendar available from skymaps.com:
- ➢ Evening Sky Maps – Northern Hemisphere Edition (updated monthly)
Each map includes a constellation chart for the month as well as a schedule of upcoming astronomical events and an astronomical glossary. (Monthly maps for the southern hemisphere and the equatorial regions are also available.) Give a copy to your students and ask them to study it and report back to you on three notable things you can watch for this month. (And as they report to you, ask them questions about what they’re telling you.) Do that for a few minutes each month, and before you know it you’ll have a team of expert astronomers in your homeschool.
The best stargazing nights in December will be toward the end of the month: the moon will be new (and the sky darkest) on the 23rd. As always, you can look up the moon’s phases in your River Houses almanac and also on the timeanddate.com website. 🌑 🌓 🌕 🌗 🌑
December is the first month of Orion Term, our winter term in the River Houses. Our Great Star for the month of December is Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), which we’ll be writing about next week. Print your own River Houses Star Calendar and follow along with us through the year as we learn about twelve of the high lights of the northern hemisphere night sky. 🌟
December is also the month of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere — the astronomical beginning of winter — which falls this year on Wednesday the 21st. (In the southern hemisphere the 21st will be the summer solstice — the astronomical beginning of summer.) The winter solstice is the “shortest day” of the year: the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest period of darkness. 🌃 🏙 🌃
What celestial sights and aerial apparitions will you and your young astronomers be examining during this homeschool December? 🔭
❡ All the star-sown sky: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Our recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas both contain charts of the constellations that will help you learn your way around the heavens. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time with your students beneath the starry vault. ✨
❡ The starry archipelagoes: For a great weekly astronomical essay, perfect for older homeschoolers, pay a visit to “The Sky This Week” from the U.S. Naval Observatory. These well-written pages, posted each Tuesday, usually focus on one or two special astronomical events or phenomena. If you have high school science students, have them read these pages aloud to you each week, or ask them to study them and narrate a summary back to you. 🌌
❡ The majestic clockwork: Where are the planets right now? Not as we see them in the sky, but rather where are they in their orbits around the sun? Find out at The Planets Today. 🪐
❡ Make friendship with the stars: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our free River Houses mailing list and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞
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