We don’t often think about the third largest planet. Most of us don’t even pronounce it correctly. But once in a while, Uranus becomes briefly easy to find and to observe, and if you own a simple pair of binoculars, that happens this coming Wednesday.
A rare, spectacular sky event is about to unfold. On the very day of the solstice, December 21, Saturn will come as close to Jupiter as Jove’s own moons! From time immemorial, a meeting of Jupiter and Saturn was deemed the most auspicious of all planetary get-togethers, the only one called a “Great Conjunction.” This is the rarest meeting between any of the five bright planets, and happens just once every two decades.
Just a few months ago, this winter was forecast to be warm, and so far that’s been generally true. But now let’s look more closely at that North Atlantic Oscillation, which has been known since 1770. When people notice that we seem “stuck in a pattern” -- either for good or for bad -- well, the NAO is that pattern. In 2010 and 11 the NAO was negative, and those winters were harsh and snowy. It was positive in 2000 and 2007, and we then had mild conditions.
We are now entering the period when the Moon can get strangely high up. The ultra-highest full moon of 2020 happens this Tuesday night, at midnight. This, the 13th full moon of the year, will be two Moon-widths higher up than the Sun ever attains here, even on the summer solstice. Photo from Pixabay.