Saturday, December 09, 2006

In the still of the night

On these first cold winter nights, some people curl up with next season's seed catalogs. I settle in with Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar. What makes his calendar great is Guy's extraordinary gift for graphics. This is not so much a traditional 12-page calendar as a large-format book.

This year's calendar arrived with a nifty Hertsprung-Russell aurora on the cover -- the familiar astronomical diagram turned into shimmering lights in the northern sky. Another example of Guy's fertile imagination.

With Ottewell as my guide, I anticipate a year of celestial pleasures.

The year begins with Venus and Mercury moving into the evening sky and Jupiter blazing in the dawn. By year's end Mars will put on an especially bright show (and we'll get those silly e-mails telling us it will be as big and bright as the full Moon).

A few fine planetary occultations next year, but alas none that are visible in the parts of the world where I'll be residing. The partial solar eclipses of March 19 and September 11 will take place while my side of the planet faces night. The August 28 total lunar eclipse is a Pacific Ocean event, but I'll be watching from my island terrace on March 3 as an eclipsed full Moon rises over a silver sea.

The heavens are half of our visual field. If we don't pay attention to the sky, we are missing half of the world's beauty. I've been skywatching for a lifetime -- with Ottewell as a guide for nearly half that time -- and every year there's still something new.

You can order The Astronomical Calendar at