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Solstice to New Year - Quiz


The winter solstice, winter constellations, Christmas, dark and cold, exploration, and famous birthdays. Here's a little quiz for you that picks out some highlights in the period from the solstice through New Year's Day. How many do you recognize?

Quiz: Solstice to New Year
  1. It's colder around the winter solstice than at the summer solstice because (A) Earth's orbit isn't circular, and we're farther from the Sun in the winter; (B) there are more clouds in winter, so we get less sunlight; (C) in winter your hemisphere's axis is tilted away from the Sun.

  2. The moon that is known to have areas covered in tiny snowlike particles is (A) Jupiter's Europa; (B) Saturn's Enceladus; (C) Jupiter's Io.

  3. A well known object in Monoceros (the Unicorn) is NGC 2264 which is popularly known as (A) the "Snowman"; (B) the Christmas Tree Cluster; (C) the Blue Snowball Nebula.

  4. The prominent northern winter constellation that contains the bright red supergiant Betelgeuse is (A) Cetus (the Sea Monster); (B) Orion (the Hunter); (C) Canis Major (the Greater Dog).

  5. The winter constellation that contains the prominent star cluster the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) is (A) Auriga (the Charioteer); (B) Gemini (the Twins); (C) Taurus (the Bull).

  6. A constellation visible in the southern hemisphere winter was named for the hero (A) Hercules; (B) Perseus; (C) Cepheus

  7. The spacecraft lost on Mars on Christmas Day 2003 was (A) Beagle 2; (B) Chang'e 3; (C) Huygens.

  8. They spent Christmas farther from home than any other humans ever had:
    (A) crew of Apollo 8; (B) crew of Skylab 4; (C) crew of ISS Expedition 1.

  9. Born on December 27, 1571, the mathematician whose three laws describe the orbits of the planets was (A) Isaac Newton; (B) Nicolaus Copernicus (C) Johannes Kepler.

  10. On New Year's Day 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the asteroid (A) Juno; (B) Vesta; (C) Ceres.
Answers and notes

1. It's colder around the winter solstice than at the summer solstice because (C) in winter your hemisphere's axis is tilted away from the Sun.
Earth is closest to the Sun during the northern winter, and clouds act like a blanket to hold in the heat – clear nights are colder.

2. The moon that is known to have areas covered in tiny snowlike particles is (B) Saturn's Enceladus.
Europa has a smooth icy surface, but no snow. Io is known for being the most volcanically active body in the Solar System.

3. A well known object in Monoceros (the Unicorn) is NGC 2264 which is popularly known as (B) the Christmas Tree Cluster.
NGC 2264 is an open star cluster. The "Snowman" is three craters on the asteroid Vesta. The Blue Snowball Nebula is a planetary nebula in the constellation Andromeda.

4. The prominent northern winter constellation that contains the bright red supergiant Betelgeuse is (B) Orion.
If you looked up at Cetus you'd see only two stars brighter than the third magnitude. Canis Major however contains the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. It's about 25 times more luminous than the Sun, but it's not a giant star. It looks bright to us because it's nearby – less than ten light years away.

5. The winter constellation that contains the prominent star cluster the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) is (C) Taurus.
The Pleiades have been known since ancient times. Although the Milky Way goes through Auriga, which has a number of star clusters, none of them are visible to the unaided eye. Gemini's star cluster M35 is just visible without binoculars in clear dark skies.

6. A constellation visible in the southern hemisphere winter was named for the hero (A) Hercules.
Perseus was the hero who rescued Andromeda from the sea monster, but his constellation is a summer one in the southern hemisphere. Cepheus was Andromeda's unheroic father whose constellation isn't visible further south than -10° latitude.

7. The spacecraft lost on Mars on Christmas Day 2003 was (A) Beagle 2.
Chang'e 3 was a Chinese moon mission whose lander arrived safely on the lunar surface on December 14, 2013. Huygens was a European probe that separated from NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Christmas day 2004. It landed on Saturn's moon Titan.

8. They spent Christmas farther from home than any other humans ever had: (A) crew of Apollo 8.
Apollo 8's crew, Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders, were orbiting the Moon over Christmas 1968. The crew of Skylab 4 celebrated the first American Christmas on board a space station. Their maximum distance from Earth was 440 km (273 mi). An American and two Russians formed the first expedition to the International Space Station. The ISS orbits at 400 km (250 mi) above Earth.

9. Born on December 27, 1571, the mathematician whose three laws describe the orbits of the planets was (C) Johannes Kepler.
At the start of Kepler's work, he hadn't accepted Copernicus's idea that the Sun – not the Earth – was at the center of our system. However his work confirmed the Copernican view. Later Isaac Newton's gravitational theory explained Kepler's laws.

10. On New Year's Day 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the asteroid (C) Ceres.
Piazzi's discovery is named for a Sicilian agricultural goddess. Juno (Jupiter's wife) was discovered in 1804. Vesta, named for the Roman goddess of hearth and home, was discovered in 1807.

How did you do?
Did you get most of the answers right? If not, would you do better next time from what you've learned? Click on “Join the discussion” to comment, see what other people say, or find out what's new.
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Content copyright © 2015 by Mona Evans. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mona Evans. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Mona Evans for details.

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