Image:  Eastern skies
The planet Saturn and a wealth of bright stars are visible in eastern skies. This view shows the sky as it would appear at 9 p.m. local time from midnorthern latitudes. Click for a larger chart.
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updated 12/4/2003 2:34:21 PM ET 2003-12-04T19:34:21

The bright stars of winter begin to rise in the east. One of the most distinctive constellations in the fall and winter sky is Orion the Hunter.

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THREE OF ORION’S brightest stars, Rigel, Betelgeuse and Bellatrix are labeled on the map above. Moving to the left of Orion, you come to Castor and Pollux, the two bright stars of Gemini the Twins. Above Gemini are the five bright stars of Auriga the Charioteer. In Auriga you find Capella, the most brilliant star near the north celestial pole.

Slightly south and to the right of Auriga is the head of Taurus the Bull. It can be easily identified because of the bright reddish star, Aldebaran. Above Taurus, riding on the back of the bull, are the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. This young and bright open cluster is easily visible to the unaided eye and resembles a smaller version of the Big Dipper. At least six hot blue stars are readily visible and keen-eyed observers can see more under dark skies away from all light pollution.

The brightest object in the early evening’s eastern sky is the planet Saturn. Saturn rises before 7 p.m. local time in early December and continues to rise four minutes earlier each day. Following behind Saturn is Jupiter, which is brighter but can be seen favorably only after midnight.

If you have dark skies, take note of the misty band of the Milky Way; it stretches from east to west in the sky. The misty band is the glow of billions of stars toward the center of our own galaxy. Observe it carefully and discern where it widens and narrows as it transverses the sky.

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