Look for little Mercury low in the southeastern predawn sky during the first two weeks in December. It will be positioned to the lower left of much brighter Venus.
Dazzling Venus penetrates the morning twilight low in the southeastern sky. It will drop lower in the sky each day as the month progresses.
Ruddy Mars remains low in the southwest sky during evening twilight. Because it presently is a great distance from Earth, the Red Planet appears very faint.
Jupiter rises in the east-northeast during evening twilight and will be high in the southern sky before midnight. By far the largest planet, Jupiter is over twice as massive as all the other planets combined. This is a good time to observe its surface features through a small telescope. On Christmas evening, the moon and Jupiter will be very close to each other.
Saturn appears in the southeastern predawn sky, to the upper right of much brighter Venus. Each morning, it will move farther away from brilliant Venus. With a specific gravity less than that of water, Saturn is the least dense of all the planets.
The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks on the night of Dec. 13-14. From a dark observing site, even the fainter meteors will be visible this year since there will be no interference from the moon. About 60 to 70 meteors per hour are expected.
The sun arrives at the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21 at 6:12 a.m. EST. This marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer south of the equator.
ABSURD, ASININE ASTROLOGY
"The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves."
-From "Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare
I wonder how many Post-Journal readers pay attention to their horoscope in an attempt to find out what lies in their future. These ridiculous although possibly entertaining fictional forecasts are based on the positions of the sun, planets and stars at the moment of an individual's birth. This crazy idea started with the ancient Babylonians who thought that the gods lived among the stars and other celestial objects, and these gods imposed their will and controlled the destinies of individuals. Now, in the year 2012, most people with a little bit of science education should be able to distinguish between the terms astronomy and astrology and realize that the deceptive practice of astrology by so-called astrologers is nothing but nonsense. But there are still millions of people out there who believe in it. It's frightening when they begin to base their decisions on this trash.
In 1988, the news broke that Nancy Reagan regularly consulted with a woman astrologer in San Francisco in regards to the President's schedule. Together, they made decisions that influenced the President's travel abroad, when he would hold press conferences, when he would deliver speeches, etc. Now, one of the most powerful people in the world should not have based his appointment calendar on the claims of a pseudoscientist. When unscientific thinking like that could have had a profound impact on our nation, it should have become a concern for all of us.
Several years ago, a Gallup Poll found that 55 percent of American teenagers believe that astrology works. Throughout the world, many people make financial, medical, and personal decisions based on the advice of their horoscopes or astrologers. As youngsters, these "believers" were never instilled with a sense of healthy doubt and critical thinking. If this trend continues, more and more people will be willing to believe just about anything they see or hear in the media.
Over the last few decades, scientists and statisticians have carried out a myriad of well-designed tests of the validity of astrological forecasts and, guess what? Astrology failed each and every one of them. As an example, when scientists examined the specific published predictions of well-known astrologers and astrological groups over a five-year period, only about 10 percent out of more than 3,000 predictions came to pass. That's far worse than relying on chance.
In summary, astrology is a pseudoscience based on superstition and is akin to a primitive belief system; the predictions made by astrologers are indistinguishable from chance, and astrologers have absolutely no ability to predict what will happen in your life. On the other hand, astronomy is a triumph of humanity's intellect, a true science that is constantly enriched by new evidence. Real scientists evaluate their ideas in comparison with evidence from the natural world, and they either reject those ideas or modify them when the evidence doesn't support them. The grandeur of the universe is overwhelming and can be studied and enjoyed just as it is, without looking for mystical and superstitious forces. As the astronomer Philip Plait has stated, "If you want to grasp how amazing the universe is, science (reality) wins every time."