Stargazing in the Caribbean
copyright© 1998 Jeannie Kuich

DECEMBER 2009 SKY CALENDAR
SPECIAL EVENTS:
The prolific Geminid meteor shower peaks on the 14thin predawn hours. Check it out several mornings before and after the 14th.
The Winter Solstice begins on the 21st.

MOON PHASES:
Wed. 2nd: Full
Tue. 8th: Last Quarter
Wed. 16th: New
Thu. 24th: First Quarter

MOON, PLANET AND STAR DANCES:
Tue. 1st: Moon and the Pleiades star sisters in evening
Sat. 5th: Moon and the star Pollux in Gemini in late evening
Sun. 6th; Moon and Mars in late evening
Mon. 7th: Moon and the star Regulus in Leo in late evening
Wed. 9th: Moon and Saturn in late evening
Fri. 11th: Moon and the star Spica in Virgo before dawn
Tue. 15th: Moon and the star Antares in Scorpius before dawn
Fri. 18th: Moon and Mercury just after sunset
Mon. 21st: Mon and Jupiter in evening
Fri. 25th: Merry Christmas!
Tue. 29th: Moon and the star Aldebaran in Taurus in late evening

DECEMBER SOAP OPERA
          It’s the time for bright, clear starry nights in the Caribbean and hopefully the brisk Christmas winds are keeping you cool. After another outstanding meal, check out the night’s entertainment in the sky before falling into bed.
          Find the asterism you’re most familiar with which is the Big Dipper in Ursa Major the Big Bear. Because you are south of the states the Dipper is lower than its position in the northern skies. It’s quite low in the early evenings of December. Then looking east you’ll spy Orion’s Belt, the bright part of a constellation that many recognize, and finally, the tiny but beautiful star cluster, the Pleiades, better known as the Seven Sisters in  North America.
          The Pleiades which is a Greek word meaning “to sail”, was at one time a separate constellation and not part of Taurus as it is today. It functioned as an important calendar marker and announced the beginning and ending of the Greek navigation season as well as the agricultural cycles.
          Its backwards question-mark shape is distinctive. Most of us only see six stars readily with unaided eyes. The seventh is too close to another star to be seen separately. With only a few exceptions myths about the Pleiades revolve around seven stars. To many people the absence of the seventh star was a mystery which caused even more legends to explain what happened to the “lost star.”
          In Greek star lore the absence of the missing Pleiad is explained in this manner. Merope who is identified as the lost sister is the only one of the seven to marry a mortal. Shamed for not wedding a god, Merope hid her face by throwing a celestial veil over her head.
          Other Greek myths reveal that the lost sister is Electra and that she migrated to Ursa Major the Great Bear where she now resides as Alcor, the little star which closely accompanies Mizar, the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper.
          If legends of the lost Pleiad were based on astronomical fact, the star Pleione may have been the sister that seemed to disappear. Pleione, lying close to the bottom star Atlas, is hard to see with the naked eye because it is a variable star and periodically brightens and dims.
          Whether we see six or seven sisters or even twelve as some have claimed, the Pleiades is a tiny but prominent navigation beacon by which we may orient ourselves and immerse ourselves in the splendor of the Caribbean night sky.

Many other sky legends may be found in "Soap Operas Of The Sky", a stargazing guide by Jeannie Kuich.