The four stars that form the corners of Ka Lupe A Kawelo, the Great Square of Pegasus, are excellent pointer stars that point in the direction of both the north and south celestial poles, and serve as an indicator of the path it takes across the night sky as it moves from the eastern to the western horizon.
The first two stars that appear in the east are Kakuhihewa (Scheat), rising on the boundary of the compass house Noio-‘Aina Ko‘olau, and Keawe (Markab), rising on the boundary of ‘Aina-La Ko‘olau. Because they rise at about the same time, they will cross the celestial meridian together making them a Meridian Pointer.
Meridian Pointers are any two stars that cross the celestial meridian together and, in the tropics, they are excellent pointer stars to the celestial north and south poles.
The second pair of stars in Ka Lupe A Kawelo to arrive in the east are Manokalanipo (Alpheratz) and Pi‘ilani (Algenib). They rise and set along the same boundaries of Noio-‘Aina Ko‘olau and ‘Aina-La Ko‘olau. These two sets of pointer stars point toward the north celestial pole.
To find the south celestial pole, draw a line through Kakuhihewa (Scheat) and Keawe (Markab); continue the line southward and through Kukaniloko (Fomalhaut) for one set of southern meridian pointers.
For the second set of pointers, draw a line through Manokalanipo (Alpheratz) and Pi‘ilani (Algenib) and through Kaikilani (Ankaa) for the second set of pointers. By using the four stars of Ka Lupe A Kawelo in this way you can identify both the north and south celestial poles.
As the days get progressively shorter in the winter season, observers will be able to start stargazing as early as 6:30 p.m. Immediately after sunset, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible.
Both Jupiter and Saturn will be setting fairly quickly.
Throughout December, Venus will appear to be climbing up in the western sky, setting at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 1 and at 8:35 p.m. Dec. 31.
Among the brightest objects in the sky, Venus is often seen immediately after sunset and has been referred to as “the evening star.” On Dec. 10, Venus and Saturn will go through a conjunction, when the two planets appear extremely close (about 2 degrees) to each other in the sky, and this pair of planets will be setting at 8 p.m.
While looking toward the body of Ka Lupe A Kawelo, about 10 degrees north and west of the star Manokalanipo, and almost 20 degrees south of ‘Iwakeli‘i, you can see a small faint smudge in the sky. This faint object is the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest full-sized galaxy to the Milky Way and the only object visible to the naked eye that is outside of Earth’s own galaxy.
The Andromeda Galaxy is about 2.5 million light years away from Earth; meaning that it is over 2.5 million years old. It is worthy to note that a number of globular clusters, the Large and Small Magellanic clouds and dwarf galaxies, which are outside of the plane of the Milky Way, are visible; however, these objects are gravitationally bound to the Milky Way within the halo of our galaxy.
Rising from the east is the distinctive star cluster of Makali‘i, also known as the Pleiades. This stellar open cluster stands out with its seven brightest stars being clearly visible to the naked eye. The stars in the cluster were all born from the same nebula about 100 million years ago. As these stars are around the same age, the cluster can be used as a laboratory for the study of stellar evolution.
Throughout December, the sun will be rising between 6:52 am and 7:08 am. The early-morning sky will look different from the evening sky. For the first half of the month, the faint planet Mercury will be rising immediately before the sun rises and will be obscured as it appears to move closer to the sun. However, Mars will also stand out in the eastern sky during these early-morning hours. In the early morning, Hanaiakamalama, the Southern Cross, will return to our Hawaii skies. This notable shape of stars will begin to rise in the southeast about an hour before the sun rises.
KEKEMAPA (DECEMBER) SKIES A… by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd
Chad Kalepa Baybayan (Kalepa.Baybayan@hawaii.edu) serves as navigator-in-residence and Emily Peavy (Emily.Peavy@hawaii.edu) as planetarium technician support facilitator at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, a center for informal science education at the University of Hawaii at Hilo showcasing astronomy and Hawaiian culture as parallel journeys of human exploration.