Celestial Navigator – December 2014

With luck, skywatchers can catch sight of the five brightest planets in the sky this month.

The smallest and innermost of the planets, Mercury, will be overwhelmed by the dazzling glare of the sun for much of December, but by New Year’sEve, it will have edged far enough away from the sun’s vicinity to be glimpsed low in the west-southwest sky right after sundown.

Also slowly becoming more evident in the evening sky this month is the dazzling planet Venus; in fact, you can use it to point the way to Mercury by month’s end. On Dec. 22, Venus will be joined by an exceedingly thin crescent moon. Also in the western evening sky is Mars, now a full eight months past its brilliant apparition of last spring and continuing to fade as it pulls away from Earth.

Jupiter is now a brilliant fixture in the late evening and overnight hours, hovering not far from the sickle of Leo, while the ringed wonder, Saturn, begins to slowly lift higher in the east-southeast predawn sky.

Dec. 8: Mercury passes superior conjunction today, when the planet is on the opposite side of the sun from Earth. As this event coincides with the date of Mercury’s aphelion — its farthest point from the sun — the planet withdraws only very slowly to the east of the sun.

Dec. 11: Looking low toward the east-northeast horizon around 10 p.m. local time, you’ll see the waning gibbous moon, accompanied about 6 degrees to its upper left by the brilliant planet Jupiter shining at a dazzling magnitude of minus 2.3 — more than twice as luminous as Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Dec. 19: If you look very low toward the east-southeast horizon at around 5:30 a.m. local time, you’ll see a delicately thin waning crescent moon. Sitting about 5 degrees below and to its left will be a bright yellow-white “star” shining with a sedate glow. That will be Saturn.

Dec. 22: Venus returns to its role of “evening star” this month. When December begins, this planet is just 5 degrees high in the southwest at sundown (as seen from about 40 degrees north latitude) and touches the horizon just over half an hour later.

This evening, this magnitude minus 3.9 world is 9 degrees high at sunset and remains up for another hour. Look for it about half an hour after sunset low to the southwest horizon; if you spot it, look about 7 degrees to its right for a breathtakingly thin waxing crescent moon less than one day from new phase.  Binoculars will help.

Dec. 24: If you look southwest at dusk on Christmas Eve, you’ll see a crescent moon, and about 7 degrees to its left, shining with a yellow-orange hue, will be Mars. The Red Planet has now receded to a distance of 180 million miles (290 million kilometers) from Earth.

Dec. 31: Mercury is still setting in the middle of evening twilight. Using binoculars, search for it within half an hour of sunset, about 4 degrees to the lower right of the much brighter Venus. These two planets will put on a great evening show during the first three weeks of January.

Excerpts from http://www.space.com/27898-brightest-planets-december-night-sky.html

Cooky Jason’s December Recipe – Sausage Hodepodge

This is a simple recipe that can be a main course OR a side dish. It’s perfect for chilly nights around the campfire and, you can do most – if not all, of the prep at home ahead of skillet-sausage-and-potatoes-38009-sstime. Sage and cranberries make it a great way to make the house or the campsite smell like the season. Happy Holidays!

Fixins’:

  • 1 pound smoked sausage (take your pick here), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ pound red or white potatoes (or purple if you can get them), quartered
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • ¾ pound fresh green beans, trimmed and halved
  • ½ pound mushrooms (whit, crimini, oyster, etc…) sliced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup sage, finely shredded
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground pepper (black or white)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water

I suggest cooking the sausage through first, letting it cool, and then slice into 1 inch pieces. You can definitely do this at home if you like, to save time at the camp site. And if you already have the veggies sliced, even better.

On a large sheet of foil, place the green beans, potatoes, onion, mushrooms, garlic, cranberries, sage, and sausage. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with oil, and top with butter. Tightly seal foil around the ingredients, leaving only a small opening. Pour water into the opening, and seal.

Place foil packet on the prepared grill. Cook 20 to 30 minutes, turning once, until vegetables are tender. Feel free to sprinkle on some parmesan or asiago cheese before serving. Enjoy!

Questions/comments/requests/suggestions/limericks/thoughts on life/childhood stories? Feel free to drop me a line at jasonr@pahaque.com.

The Gear Doctor For December 2014

Cold Weather Camping Gear Tips

There is something special about winter camping. Whether it’s the hush of a snow-covered world or the glint of sunlight reflecting off icicles, winter camping shows you things you could never see in any other season. In the winter you can see farther through the woods without leaves to block out the light, you can step onto frozen waterways, and spot winter migrant birds looking for seeds on the white-packed ground. The air often feels cleaner in winter, and cold nights make for better star viewing opportunities.
The best way to enjoy these rare experiences is to go camping! Below you’ll find a few suggestions for making your all-season camping trip more pleasurable, along with safety tips and techniques. So read on, then head out into the snows for a winter day of frolicking fun.
Before you get started, be sure to check the weather report. Dramatic winter storms can be dangerous with the threat of blizzards, ice storms, freezing rain, and avalanches. Get your trip off to a good start by planning to go when the weather is calm and, ideally, clear. If you’ll be driving to your campsite, consider putting on snow tires or carrying tire chains.
Next, turn your attention to packing your clothes. If you’ll be camping in snow, it’s important that your outer-most layer be something water and wind resistant. Waterproof jackets and pants are best because they wick moisture away (and it’s moisture that will do the most harm while winter camping, keeping you from warming up). Alternatives include waterproof windbreakers for the outer layer and snow pants or baggy wool pants for the inner layers.
Below this top layer, be sure to dress in layers of wool and synthetic fibers. As your body warms up, it gives off warmth that heats the air around the skin. If you’re wearing layers, this warm air gets trapped next to your body, keeping your skin warm. More layers create more pockets in which warm air can be trapped, so you can stay nice and toasty during your walk through the woods.
Dampness, however, is the enemy in your effort to get and stay warm in winter. Once you start to sweat, the moisture cools your body down. If you’re wearing wicking layers next to the skin, like polypropelene or wool, the moisture will be carried away from your skin and will, ideally, evaporate in the air. If your upper-most layer is too waterproof, the moisture will have trouble escaping. If that’s your situation, then be sure to travel with extra dry layers, so you can change your undershirt when it gets damp. If you’re hiking, it’s best to change your under-most layer whenever you stop for a long break.
Ground cover is also important during winter camping. Damp ground and rocks (even dry ones) can sap your heat away, so carry a piece of waterproof foam pad or other layered pad for enjoying picnics outside. Tent campers will also want to store their water bottles inside the tent, and possibly even inside someone’s sleeping bag, to keep the water from freezing completely at night.
Once you’re well-dressed, with water-proof footgear on your feet, you’re ready to tackle the wintry world. Put a wool hat on your head to preserve your heat, then head for the trail! And remember to bring lip balm, sun glasses, and sun screen (yes, even in December) with you on your all-weather adventure.