A waxing Gibbous Moon nearly obscures its celestial company with its glow. Barely visible, to the Moon’s left, lie the cluster of stars known as the Seven Sisters, or the Pleiades. Naturally, tonight would not be the ideal night for viewing, but later next week, without the Moon, they’re a curious patch of stars, seen even better through binoculars.
A nearly Full Moon bathes the Christmas Eve landscape in silvery light, but you might think Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has found the Moon curious. Actually, the red object to the Moon’s lower right is the red star Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, the Bull. This giant red star is aging, swelling to 44 times the diameter of the Sun, and 400 times brighter.
Christmas’s connection to astronomy dates back to our earliest European ancestors, knowing that the longest nights of the year would slowly give way to increasing amounts of light and warmth from the Sun. Numerous stone structures, including Stonehenge, tracked the Sun carefully, to help mark the date. Such alignments were incorporated into Mayan buildings in Central America as well.