Winter officially arrives Dec. 21 (11:19 p.m.) with the winter solstice.

For us the sun, at noon will appear at its lowest altitude above the southern horizon of the year and day length will be at its shortest. This means we skywatchers can get out to view the night sky at an earlier hour.

December also brings our 33rd annual Planetarium Christmas Program to the public at the Kent County High School. This year’s all new program is entitled, "The Many Gifts of Christmas." As usual, the show is put together with the help of the staff and students of the high school’s radio station, 90.5 WKHS-FM, and it tells the story, traditions and history of Christmas in our own special way.

First night will be Friday, Dec. 13. The show will continue on Monday, Dec. 16; Tuesday Dec. 17; Thursday, Dec. 19; and Friday, Dec. 20. All shows begin at 7 p.m. There is no admission charge and seasonal refreshments will be offered.

Pick a night and join in the fun under the planetarium skies!

A great lineup of three planets — Jupiter, Venus and Saturn — will occur on Dec. 1 one hour after sunset and looking southwest. Jupiter will be the lowest (closer to the horizon) and the second brightest; with Venus (seven times brighter than Jupiter) to the upper left of Jupiter. Saturn, the dimmest, will be to the upper left of Venus.

Be sure to catch this lineup early in December because by mid-month, Jupiter will be lost to sight by the sun’s glare and Saturn will have reached the same fate by Christmas Eve.

Venus, however, will climb higher with each passing day all month. On Dec. 10, it will be seen just below Saturn. On Dec. 28, a thin crescent moon will appear just below Venus.

Mars will begin to reappear in December, but in the morning before sunrise in the eastern sky. On Dec. 1, it will rise around 4:30 a.m. local time and be well up by 6 a.m. The waning crescent moon will be seen just above Mars on the morning of Dec. 22 and just below it on Dec. 23.

Looking north around 1 or 2 a.m. on Dec. 23 (dress warmly), we might be able to see upwards of 30 meteors per hour from the Ursid meteor shower; meteors appearing to come from the area of the Little Dipper.

I wish all faithful readers of Skywatch a very merry Christmas; and lots of clear skies! Keep looking up.

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