Dec 01

December 2007

What’s Up in the Sky December, 2007
By Peter Burkey

While researching the history for this month, I noticed that several “stars” of astronomy were born in December. Here is some background information on these folks, all of whom made major contributions to the field and have birthdays next month.

Gerard Kuiper’s name has been in the news recently in connection with the status of Pluto as a planet. Pluto is actually a member of a family of icy objects that orbit the sun just beyond Neptune. Kuiper was the first to theorize their existence. Recent discoveries of several additional objects have confirmed what is now known as the Kuiper Belt.

Annie Jump Cannon was one of the women “computers” at the Harvard College Observatory during the late 1800’s who performed the long, tedious calculations necessary to classify stellar spectra. She personally classified over 500,000 spectra and established the system of classifying stars by their spectra that is still in use today – OBAFGKM.

E. E. Barnard was another famous astronomer of that time period. He discovered Amalthea, the fifth known moon of Jupiter. He also pioneered photographic studies of the structure of the Milky Way and discovered the star, now known as Barnard’s Star, that changes its position over the years by the greatest amount.

It is interesting that Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton all share the same birth month. Tycho’s comprehensive observations and accurate record keeping enabled Kepler to determine the true nature of planetary orbits. And, using one of Kepler’s discoveries, Newton was able to describe mathematically how gravity works.

Sergie Korolev can be described as the father of the Soviet space program, comparable to Wernher Von Braun in the US. After surviving Stalin’s concentration camps he was sent to Germany to study captured rocket technology. He later went on to become the Chief Designer or head rocket engineer for the Soviet Union during the space race.

All of these individuals influenced our understanding of what’s up in the sky.

This month in history:
Dec. 2: Pioneer 11 spacecraft makes closest approach to Jupiter – 1974
Dec. 7: Gerard Kuiper born – 1905
Dec. 11: Annie Jump Cannon born – 1863
Dec. 14: Tycho Brahe born – 1546
Dec. 16: Last two Saturn V moon rockets are donated to museums
Dec 16: E. E. Barnard born – 1857
Dec. 25: Isaac Newton born – 1642
Dec. 27: Johannes Kepler born – 1571
Dec. 30: Sergei Korolev born – 1906

Here are this month’s viewing highlights:
Planets this month: Jupiter sinks low in WSW as month progresses – gone by the 22nd. Venus continues to dominate the predawn sky where she is joined by Mars and Saturn.
Dec. 1: Last Quarter Moon
Dec. 5: Look for crescent Moon and Venus – 90 min. before sunrise.
Dec. 9: New Moon
Dec. 13-14: Geminid meteors peak.
Dec. 17: First Quarter Moon.
Dec. 22: Winter solstice – first day of winter – 1:08 a.m.
Dec. 23: Look for Mars just below Full Moon.
Dec. 31: Last Quarter Moon