Just as the holiday season is a time to reunite with family and friends on Earth, December is a chance to reacquaint yourself with some old and new friends in the night sky over British Columbia.
High in the southern sky is Saturn, a planet with its own set of celestial jewelry.
"The public is welcome to visit the UBC Observatory on any clear Saturday night in December or January to see Saturn's beautiful rings close up," says Physics and Astronomy Asst. Prof. Jaymie Matthews.
Come an hour after sunset up to 9 p.m., except for Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 when the observatory will be closed. The observatory is located in the Geophysics and Astronomy Building, 2219 Main Mall. (Enter by the far left side door.)
As twilight falls Matthews says stargazers can see the planet Jupiter, shining like a very bright yellowish star in the southwest.
"Binoculars or a small telescope will reveal the planet's disc, which is 11 times the size of earth," he says. "And you can see its four largest moons, strung around it like starry pearls."
Just starting to take a prominent place in the winter sky is the great hunter Orion, a constellation that stands out because of the three stars that make up his belt. The bright blue star Rigel can be found in Orion's tunic and the red giant Betelgeuse in his shoulder.
"The name Betelgeuse is pronounced `Beetle-Juice' and is derived from old Arabic for `hairy armpit of the giant,'" Matthews says.
Hanging beneath Orion's belt is his sword, which contains an enormous gas cloud where new stars are being born right now. Look for Orion in the southeastern sky.
Later in the evening, trailing behind his master will come Sirius, the dog star and the Pleiades, a cluster of stars often known as the Seven Sisters.
"If you want to know what to look for, check the hood ornament of any Subaru. That's the Japanese name for the Pleiades cluster," Matthews says.
After midnight on Dec. 14, he suggests checking out the Geminid meteor shower because there is a good chance of seeing some bright fireballs. The moon will be close to its new phase and the sky should be dark away from the city. Under those conditions, Matthews predicts the Geminids could generate a few ooohs and ahhhs. And he has one more tip.
"Professional astrophysicists suggest you bring along a blanket plus some eggnog to enhance the meteors' effect and to diminish the cold," he says.