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  Night Sky

.Enjoy our starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor: reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward.
Let the stars light up the night.

Night Sky

December 15, 2012, at 7:30 p.m.

December 2012 Night Sky

—Charlie Christmann

Geminid meteor shower

The last meteor shower of the year peaks on evening of December 13 through dawn on the 14th. Expect around fifty meteors per hour. This year will be special as the new moon coincides with the peak of the shower, making for dark skies.

Jupiter in all its glory

On December 2, Jupiter reaches opposition—the exact opposite direction from the sun as seen from Earth. Look for the Jovian planet in the east just after sunset. It is hard to miss at a bright -2.8 magnitude. By comparison, near-by Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the Bull, shines at a magnitude of +0.87.

You can watch the moons of Jupiter orbit the giant planet, transit across the face, and pass behind the planet. Nightly, the four largest moons—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto—can be seen with good binoculars and small telescopes. The following table details some of the significant events for the moons of Jupiter. Start looking early during transiting and occultation events to see the moon before it disappears in front of or behind the planet.

December Night Sky

The Planets and Moon

• Mercury is a morning star rising about sixty to ninety minutes ahead of the sun in the ESE. On the 9th look for a Mercury-Venus conjunction about 5:30 a.m. Also in the line up that morning are Saturn and the waxing crescent moon above and to the right of Venus.

• Venus is a bright magnitude -4.0, rising at 4:40 a.m. on the 1st and at 5:42 a.m. on the 31st in the ESE. On the 11th, find the crescent moon with Venus less than three degrees above it at dawn.

• Mars is hiding in the early morning sunrise this month.

• Jupiter rises in the east at sunset and is up all night. A Moon-Jupiter conjunction occurs on the 25th with Jupiter less than one degree above the moon. Aldebaran will be below the moon.

• Saturn rises at 4:10 a.m. on the 1st and at 2:29 a.m. on the 31st in the ESE.

• The Moon is new on the 13th and full on the 28th.

• Winter begins at 4:12 a.m. on the 21st.

• On the 25th, watch for a low-flying red sled with reindeer propulsion.


Save Our Spaceport coalition pushes for legislation to encourage new companies and job growth at Spaceport America

—Ali Littman

Spaceport America needs new legislation to be successful, according to a new coalition of supporters called, “Save Our Spaceport.”

New laws in other states have put Spaceport America at a disadvantage, and thus in jeopardy, and the Save Our Spaceport coalition is pushing for a new state law to encourage manufacturers and suppliers to locate and bring jobs to the Spaceport.

Recently, in the hopes of attracting the space industry away from New Mexico, four states, some neighboring NM, have changed their laws to limit liability for manufacturers and suppliers. The four states are Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

The Spaceport and local jobs are at risk because under New Mexico law, manufacturers and suppliers for human space flight could be sued by the space flyers in the event of an accident. The disparity between New Mexico and its competitor states could drive these companies to locate to other states. In addition, current tenants at the Spaceport, including Virgin Galactic, may have trouble launching their space flight operations in New Mexico if the current law is not changed.

“It is clear that the liability laws have changed in the country, and other states want to steal our business,” said Bill McMillan, President of the NM Aviation Aerospace Association. “We must maintain our competitiveness or see the industry go elsewhere.”

The people of New Mexico have invested over $200 million to make this state a global leader in commercial space flight. Nearly one thousand New Mexicans have been employed in building Spaceport America at the 18,000-acre site near Upham, NM. The new runways and unmatched airspace have attracted Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, and Lockheed Martin to the site.     

“The whole space industry, and the jobs that depend on it, could be lost if the legislature does not change the liability law to deal with the new realities of the space marketplace,” said Beverlee McClure, president and CEO of Association of Commerce and Industry.

The proposed new law would not change any rights of the uninvolved public—the citizens of New Mexico would keep all their rights that they have today. In addition, prospective space passengers have stated repeatedly that they are willing to accept the risks of spaceflight. In fact, passengers going into space will be signing a federal waiver before launch, waiving certain liability for going into space.

“The passengers are willing to assume the risks of space flight—and they will fly from the states that are most welcoming to the space industry,” said Richard Holcomb, Education Chair of the Tourism Association of New Mexico. “We should not allow the current law to harm the human space industry when the passengers don’t even want it.”

The impact is no longer theoretical. Over the past year, several leading space companies have passed on locating at Spaceport America, citing liability law as a reason for going somewhere else.

Senator Mary Kay Papen will sponsor, along with co-sponsor Senator John Arthur Smith, a bill in the Senate, and Representative Jim White will sponsor a bill in the House of Representatives to change the law.

For more information about the Save Our Spaceport coalition, contact Ali Littman at 842-6600 or at:  

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