Hey Space Placers!
Today is the 1st day of astronomical winter as the winter solstice occurred at 1230 a.m. EST, 12-22-11. The Sun will now begin to rise a little higher in our sky at local noon and move along the eastern horizon towards the North each day. Here in Northern VA our temp will be in the 60's(!) today, and we have had a few days of these temps off and on for the past week.
The nights will remain long during winter so take advantage of seeing the stars and planets - Venus is in the southwest right after sunset blazing away and Jupiter is king high in the southeast. The winter constellations are rising in the east so be sure to look for Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Taurus and Auriga.
If you have clear skies tomorrow before sunrise, at about 6:15 to 6:30 a.m., be sure to go out and look in the east. I saw Mercury today through some clouds and it was bright and a fist or two width above the eastern horizon. It was bright and golden-yellow in color. It is brighter than the nearby star of summer, Antares.The waxing crescent Moon, complete with earthshine was visible through the clouds as well and will be below Mercury tomorrow, the 23rd, and just above the horizon. Having a clear horizon and no clouds will help.
Oh, Comet Lovejoy, is giving a really good show to observers in the southern hemisphere - check out the photos here http://spaceweather.com/archive.php?view=1&day=22&month=12&year=2011
Sky Guy in V