The last meteor shower of the year is the Ursids which began on Dec. 17 and will end on Dec. 25. It peaks on Dec. 22 and 23.

It is one of the minor meteor showers that produces up to 5-10 meteors per hour.

We can also observe at least five planets in the December sky. Mercury will be too close to the sun for most of the year and so the view is affected by sun’s glare, but by the end of the month, it will move away from the sun and will be visible in the west-southwest sky after the sunset.

Venus returned as our “evening star” in the southwestern sky at the beginning of the month. Mars is will be visible in southwestern sky. Jupiter will appear in southern sky at night and Saturn will emerge as a “morning star” in the southeastern sky visible at the daybreak.

One of my students did a presentation about the designer and filmmaker, Saul Bass. She covered his more famous designs for the title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese – like his animated paper cut-out of a heroin addict’s arm for The Man with the Golden Arm and those for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Psycho. He also did some iconic corporate logos for the Bell System, AT&T’s 1980s globe logo and Continental and United Airlines.

But there was no mention of his movie titles for It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World – one of my childhood favorites. And no mention of a film I saw as a young student and showed as a teacher (in both instances on 16mm film). That short film is Bass’ “Why Man Creates” – a half hour about creativity and approaches we take to that process.

It won the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 1968 and an excerpt was shown on the first-ever broadcast of CBS’ 60 Minutes that fall. (Trivia: Although uncredited, George Lucas, who was studying film at USC at the time, was the second unit cameraman on this film.)

I watched a clip on YouTube and the animation style and photographed fashions seem a bit dated, but it is still out there in its approach.

I’ve been stuck lately in writing posts. I seem to be writing a lot about the sky, stars and planets. Not a bad thing, but not very creative. So, I started clicking some creativity links.

From The Energy Project, I found ideas for making the proper setting for creativity:

The best ideas tend to emerge by extending, deepening, rethinking, and reframing previous thoughts, suggestions, and solutions. Many ideas seem wrong or somehow off base at first, but by deepening and discussing and reframing them, they often become more coherent, interesting, and feasible.

By rebuking people for mistakes and failures, we stifle creativity. For leaders, it’s often important to stand back, especially in the early stages of any creative process, allowing their teams to brainstorm without feeling pressured by the opinion of the head of the group. By creating a democratic atmosphere where everyone’s ideas are considered equally valuable, the final product will often be much richer – and the members of the team more encouraged to contribute and grow.

I’m not trying to build a creative team but some of the suggestions make sense for individuals:

Make space for uninterrupted time to brainstorm and come up with new ideas.

Step away from a problem you are trying to solve and let our unconscious work on it. Incubation via a walk, listening to music, or meditating.

Try to avoid the self-criticism that shuts down creativity.

There are no lack of books under the heading “Creativity.” But I’m not sure that you can find your creativity in a book like The Well of Creativity, but you might find a way to discover your creativity or ways to encourage it.

I cam across some books by Julia Cameron who seems to have made a living at guiding readers on the “spiral path” of the “artist’s way.” She started with a bestselling creativity manual, The Artist’s Way followed by two more twelve-week programs for creative recovery in Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity and Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. (All 3 are in The Complete Artist’s Way.) More than a living, she seems to have created a minor industry from creativity. There’s The Artist’s Way at Work and audio books like Reflections on the Artist’s Way. As we head into a new year, there’s The Artist’s Way Engagement Calendar or The Artist’s Date Book.

Am I being dismissive and mocking of all this? Actually, no. I think it’s important to “clear the spring and tend the fountain” of your creativity. For me, writing is my path. I have multiple journals and have at least looked into lots of books on creativity. (The Right to Write, Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques)  Books can suggest “creativity Workouts and exercises but you need to take action at some point.

While some writers say they are intimidated by the blank page, I find a blank page to be very inviting. It’s like that fresh snow cover that hides a lot of ugliness. I find it hopeful. That’s probably why I am always buying new blank books and start to fill them with some new theme of writing – garden notes, blog ideas, favorite quotations, sketches, haiku…


For those of you up late tonight, like me, December 13 and 14 nights will see the peak of the Geminids meteor shower which is sometimes called the “king of the meteor showers.” It can produce up to 120 multi-colored meteors per hour when it is at its peak.

The entire window of visibility begins on December 7 and ends on the 17th, but  the anticipated peak is the night of the 13th into the morning of the 14th.

They are primarily visible in the Northern Hemisphere, but can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere too. Sky gazers in Australia can expect to see 30-40 meteors per hour.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the “falling stars” will seem to come from the constellation Gemini above the eastern horizon. West of Gemini is the brilliant planet Jupiter which looks like a star to our unaided eyes, and just before sunrise, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury appear above the southeastern horizon.

fall moon

I do spend a lot of time looking up at the sky, especially at night, though I’m no amateur astronomer and gave away my telescope years ago. I prefer naked eye observations and just knowing the science that other things are happening in the heavens even if I can’t observe them.  That must connect me in some ways with the ancients who did the same thing and paid much better attention to the natural world around them.

Tonight’s moon (December 6/7) is classified as a northern lunistice or, the name I prefer, a northern standstill.  (The term lunistice is listed in my dictionary as “obsolete” and defined as the farthest point of the moon’s northing and southing in its monthly revolution. It comes from Latin luna “moon” and sistere “to cause to stand” which is similar to solstice (sun + stand).

Tonight the Moon travels farthest north of the celestial equator. It’s not a rare event. It’s a monthly event. If we were talking about the Sun, that reaches its northernmost point in our view once a year. We call that June event a solstice. Tonight’s monthly event is similar to a solstice in that the moon is northernmost. Take a look tonight if you can (clouds and rain in Paradelle) and see if you notice anything different.

More details

cloud animated moon
Tonight, December 6th, is the Full Moon for this month. But the Moon became “full” just now at 7:27 am ET even though very few people think about the Moon in the morning and will only observe it as “full” tonight. Well, actually a lot of people looked at the Moon last night or will see it tomorrow and say it looks full.

The December full moon is generally referred to as Cold Moon, Moon Before Yule and Long Night Moon or Moon of Long Nights, Oak Moon (Medieval English), Snow Moon, Moon of the Popping Trees, Her Winter Houses Moon, Big Freezing Moon, Frost Moon, Twelfth Moon (Dakota Sioux), Christmas Moon (Colonial America), Wintermonat (Winter Month), Bitter Moon (China), Heilagmonoth (Holy Month), Dreaming Moon and Big Winter Moon.

The American Indian names for the Full Moons are the most interesting. The Hopi call this kyaamuya, Moon of Respect   I like the name used by the Wishram Indians of the Columbia River area of Washington and Oregon for this moon: Her Winter Houses Moon. I don’t know what it means, but I like it. The Zuni of New Mexico call this ik’ohbu yachunne which translates as Sun Has Traveled Home to Rest.

I realized recently that my interest in the Full Moons probably started by reading copies of The Old Farmer’s Almanac that my mom would buy.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for 2015 is available for sale and I don’t know if it is considered so old-fashioned that no one reads it anymore.

My mom always bought a copy and I would devour its odd facts and weather lore and Full Moon stories and predictions. I’m sure it was one of the bigger influences on me as a kid that has stayed with me into old age.

What kid (or adult?) could resist America’s oldest continuously published periodical which is now in its 223rd year? They still claim to have 80 percent-accurate weather forecasts, but also stories about creatures from hell, readers’ wacky coincidences, how to make sausages at home, how wildfires’ affect our weather, love potions (yes, I mixed a few of those in my day), stats on things like what are the odds of almost everything, plus the sky and nature things I love to write about here like Moon phases, celestial sightings, tides, and gardening tables.  It was something my mom used as one of my stocking-stuffers and it still works in that way..

This Moon of Long Nights is a marker of that time when winter cold had a pretty solid hold on much of our country, although this year the moon comes early. The nights are literally longer. That’s something that people have observed for thousands of years before they understood the reason it occurred.  The long, dark night increases as we move towards the solstice because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time it has a high trajectory across the sky opposite a low Sun.

I enjoyed reading my sons books about the Moon and about science told simply. We liked When The Moon Is Full which had a cover very appropriate to this month’s Long Night Moon. It tells with colored woodcuts and poems about all twelve full moons of the year with the traditional Native American names, from the Wolf Moon to the Long Night Moon. It has a question-and-answer section with information about the moon’s surface, lunar eclipses and the true meaning of a blue moon.

The Moon, stars and planets fascinate young children, but unfortunately many of them lose that sense of wonder when gazing up at the night sky when they get older.

Of course, the same thing happens with nature and animals and the science of dinosaurs and simple chemistry and even that early fascination with numbers. These are all things to nurture in children, and the Full Moons are great opportunities to connect to that awe and wonder.

In December 2010, the Winter Solstice was also the Full Moon. That is an interesting astronomical calendar coincidence (though not unique). In 2009, the full moon arrived on December 31 to end the year, and it was also the second full moon of the month which some people erroneously but popularly call a “Blue Moon.”

This year’s full moon seems too early to be called the Moon Before Yule. Although “Yule” is equated with Christmas now, Yuletide was a pre-Christian winter solstice festival that lasted for 12 days. (Yule +‎ -tide, “period around a holiday” from the Old English tīd, “time”).  In Scandinavia, winter solstice fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log.

In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.

The_Time_Machine_Classics_Illustrated_133

As a person who has read a lot about time travel, and who still plans to do some time traveling one day, I was pleased to see Brian Greene’s simple explanation of traveling into the future. I have been thinking about this since I was a kid and read the Classics Illustrated comic book version of H.G. Wells The Time Machine. Those comics led me on to many classic novels and to the library to find books about topics like time travel.

When it comes to time travel, there’s a misconception  – one that most of you are probably aware of – that’s important to clarify: It is only time travel to the past that’s speculative and, as many physicists anticipate, will one day be ruled out by a deeper understanding of physics.

Time travel to the future, by contrast, is an established part of modern understanding. As I briefly describe in the video below, Einstein showed us how you can — at least in principle — travel as far into the future as you’d like.

There are “technological/engineering” obstacles to doing so — the difficulties of achieving sufficiently high speed or traveling to the edge of a black hole — but the laws of physics themselves are unequivocal: time travel to the future is possible.

This video is part of World Science U, a new free digital education platform for teaching and learning science that I signed up for recently. Check it out at www.worldscienceu.com

There are other videos of Greene talking about time and answering questions about things like why the way we measure the passage of time using clocks and watches is merely an attribute of time, not its essence.

I have always loved listening to Greene explain complicated theories of physics in ways that I can fully understand – until he stops talking and I have to explain it to someone else. Then, I am back to, if not square 1, at least square 3.

The headline was sensationalized, as most headlines, tweets and Facebook posts are these days, and reads “Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks.”

An 8 week rebuild sounds great. As does “lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks” and “earn $1000 a week at home by surfing the Internet.” So, I’m skeptical. But it has that Harvard piece of credibility, so I read on.

Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University.  The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter.

Not really even hardcore meditation but 27 minutes a day of mindfulness exercises was “all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”

And the participants self-reported a reduction in stress that “correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”

Sine I already do some meditation and mindfulness activities almost every day, I suppose I’ve already reaped the benefits as much as possible. Still, the past few weeks have been very stressful and the next month or so looks to be even more so. I guess that being more mindful of my mindfulness and having a daily practice for more than a half hour might be even better.  And a hourlong walk in the woods seems to do a lot of good.

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