Jupiter, Moon Align in Christmas Skywatching Treat






As darkness falls on Christmas night, check out the east-southeast sky. Shining brilliantly to the upper left of the bright, nearly full moon will be a silvery “star” with a steady glow.


But that’s not a star, or Santa returning to the North Pole. Rather, it’s the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, serving as a sort of holiday ornament with Earth’s nearest neighbor to cap off a year of interesting skwyatching events.   






As viewed from the eastern and central United States, the moon and Jupiter will appear closest together during the late afternoon or early evening hours on Tuesday (Dec. 25). From New York, they’ll be closest together at 6:25 p.m. EST (2325 GMT); from Chicago, it’ll be 5:18 p.m. local time (2318 GMT).


Jupiter will appear just a bit over one-half degree from the limb of the moon. (One-half degree is roughly equal to the moon’s apparent width). In the western United States, the closest approach will come before sunset, but moon and planet will still appear to be quite close together as darkness falls. [Video: Jupiter and the Moon Converge on Christmas] 


The pair will be slowly separating as Tuesday night shifts to Wednesday morning; the moon moves across the sky at roughly its own diameter each hour. 


Jupiter will remain a bold light high in the east-southeast at nightfall. This week, it doesn’t set in the west until around 5 a.m. local time. Appearing brighter than any nighttime star, Jupiter is now levitating in front of the constellation Taurus (the Bull), not far from the famous V-shaped Hyades star cluster and despite the nearby presence of the orange 1st-magnitude star, Aldebaran, which fills this region of the sky with overbearing brightness. 


What kind of telescopic observation can be made of the gas giant now? Almost every kind. From mid-northern latitudes you can even watch a full rotation of Jupiter, with the cloud features of every longitude displayed, during a single nightlong vigil. And as always, a fascinating dance of Jupiter’s four large Galilean satellites will await viewers on any night who watch with a small telescope or even steadily held binoculars.


As darkness falls over the eastern U.S. on Tuesday, you’ll see two Jupiter moons — Ganymede and Callisto — on one side of the giant planet, while a third, Europa, hovers by itself on the other side. 


As the evening progresses, Ganymede and Europa will gradually pull away from Jupiter. Then, at 7:15 p.m. EST (0015 GMT Wednesday), the fourth Galilean satellite, Io, will emerge from Jupiter’s shadow and appear on the side of the planet occupied by Europa. 


Slowly, as Tuesday night wears on, Io will become easier to see as it moves away from Jupiter and toward Europa. At 11:40 p.m. EST (0440 GMT Wednesday), you’ll see Io passing Europa. 


And Jupiter itself will continue to be a great target throughout the entire winter season for those who got binoculars or a telescope as a holiday gift.


Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York. Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+. 


Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Shootings: Suicide risk gives clues




A sign near a cemetery of a victim in the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Daniel Flannery: Studies show there is no distinct profile of school shooters

  • Flannery: We can take lessons from what we know about risk for suicide

  • He says we can do better to assess a person's risk for violent action toward others

  • Flannery: Communities and schools should pay more attention to kids' mental health




Editor's note: Daniel J. Flannery is the Dr. Semi J. and Ruth Begun professor and director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention, Research and Education at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.


(CNN) -- It is hard not to feel a sense of despair, loss and anxiety over the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We want answers. We may not know for a very long time, if ever, what really motivated the shooter.


Previous studies of school shooters show us that some common mental health symptoms characterize many of the perpetrators, including poor anger management ability, narcissism, low self-esteem and lack of empathy. However, there are still many more differences across shooters than similarities, so to date there is no distinct profile of school shooters.


What can we do, aside from the psychological autopsying of recent incidents, to try and prevent more homicide school shootings? There is no simple answer. But we can take some lessons from what we know about risk for suicide.



Daniel J. Flannery

Daniel J. Flannery



For many years, we have done a pretty good job of getting people to take threats of suicide seriously. If a young person walks into a counselor's office and says something like, "I think I'm going to kill myself," that counselor has been professionally trained and socialized to not underestimate the threat of self-injury.


Certainly, not every young adult who says such a thing goes on to commit suicide. Evidence shows that many of them have at least thought about hurting or killing themselves at some point, but few actually make a real attempt and fewer still carry it out.








Developing a good model for assessing the risk of suicide can provide a framework for how to assess the seriousness of threats to commit acts of violence toward others.


For example, one of the best predictors of suicide is previous suicide attempts. We try to determine whether a person has access to lethal methods of self-harm (drugs, firearms) and how detailed are the plans to carry out the act. We look for signs of anger and whether the person has experienced a recent crisis or loss. We try to figure out if a person's sense of rejection or disenfranchisement leads to a sense of hopelessness about the future, and a conviction that suicide is the only way out of a desperate situation. Moreover, if a person knows someone close who has committed suicide, we have to be vigilant since there tends to be an increase (clustering) of suicides among friends or acquaintances.


Each of these signposts can help us do a better job of assessing a person's risk for carrying out acts of violence toward others like in the school shootings.


We can look for any history of violence -- whether the person has written about or told others of his or her intent. We can try to find out whether the person has access to firearms or has thought out a plan to carry out an attack. We can try to evaluate levels of anger, feelings of rejection, or expressions of hopelessness about the future.


Most adolescent school shooters have said something to peers prior to taking any action, but not always to the direct target of an attack, and rarely to an adult. (In contrast, in rampage shootings carried out by adults, we don't have as much information and they don't usually give verbal warnings or threats beforehand.)


Ideally, assessing the risk would be carried out using a validated set of reliable indicators, with detailed semi-structured interviews performed by trained mental health professionals. In schools, social workers, counselors or school psychologists can screen young people for risk of potential violence perpetration and refer them to other mental health professionals who could do a more thorough assessment if necessary. Of course, adequate screenings depend largely on adequate time, resources and staff training.


Not every young person who makes a threat to hurt others will end up committing an act of violence toward others, and very few will ever commit a multiple mass shooting. But just as we take threats of suicide seriously, we should pay equal attention to those who say they might harm others.


We have to do all we can to make sure our children are safe, and that they all come home at the end of the school day. We can take steps as a community to pay attention to mental health and violence as it occurs every day, not just when horrible acts of great magnitude occur.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel J. Flannery.






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Hundreds of Illinois clergy support gay marriage bill









More than 250 Illinois clergy — most of them in the Chicago area — have endorsed a gay marriage bill that could come up for a vote in Springfield before Jan. 9.


On Sunday, rabbis and pastors from denominations that support gay rights in varying degrees unveiled a declaration supporting equality for same-sex couples. Fostering faith, justice and compassion is a key component of their jobs, they said.


"Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples," the declaration stated. "There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."





Earlier this month, Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Greg Harris announced they would take up the measure as the current General Assembly winds down in January and before a new set of lawmakers is sworn in Jan. 9.


The legislation would allow same-sex marriage and protect the right of religious institutions to either consecrate or not consecrate such weddings. Opponents say gay marriage violates Scripture, natural law and basic moral principles.


"We believe all Illinois couples should have the same civil protections and urge our public officials to support measures to achieve equality," the statement said.


Catholics and pastors of predominantly African-American conservative congregations were absent from the list of clergy who signed the statement.


Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said a separate coalition of leaders from those religious groups would issue a letter in January explaining their opposition.


He noted that the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian clergy who signed the declaration belong to denominations in which not all leaders agree about gay marriage.


"Some ministers out there would conclude our position is just right," Gilligan said. "Everyone in the hierarchy and clergy are (in agreement). We're talking about more than people in the pews."


Gilligan added that opposition to gay marriage is rooted in more than religious teachings. It's a basic part of human nature, he said.


"The reason we're so vocal about laws that unite more than man and woman in marriage is it's (contrary) to human nature," Gilligan said.


Sunday's statement acknowledged that not all faith communities are of one mind.


"There are differences among our many religious traditions," it said. "Some recognize and bless same-sex unions, and some do not. The important thing is that the Religious Freedom Protection and Marriage Fairness Act protects religious freedom and guarantees that all faiths will decide which marriages should be consecrated and solemnized within their tradition."


The Rev. Kevin Tindell, a pastor at New Dimensions Chicago, a nondenominational church on Chicago's South Side, said his moral principles inspire him to support the measure.


"We all deserve the human right to be happy," Tindell said. "It has nothing to do with natural order and everything to do with support, family and love."


mbrachear@tribune.com


Twitter: @TribSeeker





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Afghan policewoman kills coalition contractor in Kabul: NATO


KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan woman wearing a police uniform shot dead on Monday a civilian contractor working for Western forces in the police chief's compound in Kabul, NATO said.


The incident is likely to raise troubling questions about the direction of an unpopular war.


It appeared to be the first time that a woman member of Afghanistan's security forces carried out such an attack.


There were conflicting reports about the victim.


A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said a U.S. police adviser was killed by an Afghan policewoman. Then ISAF said in a statement only that it was a "contracted civilian employee" who was killed.


Mohammad Zahir, head of the police criminal investigation department, described the incident as an "insider attack" in which Afghan forces turn their weapons on Western troops they are supposed to be working with. He initially said the victim was a U.S. soldier.


After more than 10 years of war, militants are capable of striking Western targets in the heart of the capital, and foreign forces worry that Afghan police and military forces they are supposed to work with can suddenly turn on them.


The policewoman approached her victim as he was walking in the heavily guarded police chief's compound in a bustling area of Kabul. She then drew a pistol and shot him once, a senior police official told Reuters.


The police complex is close to the Interior Ministry where in February, two American officers were shot dead at close range at a time anger gripped the country over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base.


"She is now under interrogation. She is crying and saying 'what have I done'," said the official, of the police officer who worked in a section of the Interior Ministry responsible for gender awareness issues.


TIPS FOR TROOPS


The insider incidents, also known as green-on-blue attacks, have undermined trust between coalition and Afghan forces who are under mounting pressure to contain the Taliban insurgency before most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.


Security responsibilities in a country plagued by conflict for decades will be handed to Afghan security forces.


Many Afghans fear a civil war like one dominated by warlords after the withdrawal of Soviet occupying forces in 1989 could erupt again, or the Taliban will make another push to seize power if they reject a nascent peace process.


At least 52 members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have been killed this year by Afghans wearing police or army uniforms.


Insider attacks now account for one in every five combat deaths suffered by NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, and 16 percent of all U.S. combat casualties, according to 2012 data.


Hoping to stop the increase in the attacks, Afghan Defense Ministry officials have given their troops tips in foreign culture.


They are told not to be offended by a hearty pat on the back or an American soldier asking after your wife's health.


NATO attributes only about a quarter of the attacks to the Taliban, saying the rest are caused by personal grievances and misunderstandings. Last year, there were 35 deaths in such attacks.


Afghan forces are vulnerable to "insider attacks" of their own. In Jawzjan province in the north, a police commander shot and killed five comrades overnight, the Interior Ministry said.


Last year, he defected from the Taliban, said the ministry.


Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the commander had rejoined the Taliban. That could not be confirmed.


(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Robert Birsel)



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Wall Street Week Ahead: A lump of coal for "Fiscal Cliff-mas"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street traders are going to have to pack their tablets and work computers in their holiday luggage after all.


A traditionally quiet week could become hellish for traders as politicians in Washington are likely to fall short of an agreement to deal with $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts due to kick in early next year. Many economists forecast that this "fiscal cliff" will push the economy into recession.


Thursday's debacle in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner failed to secure passage of his own bill that was meant to pressure President Obama and Senate Democrats, only added to worry that the protracted budget talks will stretch into 2013.


Still, the market remains resilient. Friday's decline on Wall Street, triggered by Boehner's fiasco, was not enough to prevent the S&P 500 from posting its best week in four.


"The markets have been sort of taking this in stride," said Sandy Lincoln, chief market strategist at BMO Asset Management U.S. in Chicago, which has about $38 billion in assets under management.


"The markets still basically believe that something will be done," he said.


If something happens next week, it will come in a short time frame. Markets will be open for a half-day on Christmas Eve, when Congress will not be in session, and will close on Tuesday for Christmas. Wall Street will resume regular stock trading on Wednesday, but volume is expected to be light throughout the rest of the week with scores of market participants away on a holiday break.


For the week, the three major U.S. stock indexes posted gains, with the Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> up 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 <.spx> up 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> up 1.7 percent.


Stocks also have booked solid gains for the year so far, with just five trading sessions left in 2012: The Dow has advanced 8 percent, while the S&P 500 has climbed 13.7 percent and the Nasdaq has jumped 16 percent.


IT COULD GET A LITTLE CRAZY


Equity volumes are expected to fall sharply next week. Last year, daily volume on each of the last five trading days dropped on average by about 49 percent, compared with the rest of 2011 - to just over 4 billion shares a day exchanging hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT in the final five sessions of the year from a 2011 daily average of 7.9 billion.


If the trend repeats, low volumes could generate a spike in volatility as traders keep track of any advance in the cliff talks in Washington.


"I'm guessing it's going to be a low volume week. There's not a whole lot other than the fiscal cliff that is going to continue to take the headlines," said Joe Bell, senior equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research, in Cincinnati.


"A lot of people already have a foot out the door, and with the possibility of some market-moving news, you get the possibility of increased volatility."


Economic data would have to be way off the mark to move markets next week. But if the recent trend of better-than-expected economic data holds, stocks will have strong fundamental support that could prevent selling from getting overextended even as the fiscal cliff negotiations grind along.


Small and mid-cap stocks have outperformed their larger peers in the last couple of months, indicating a shift in investor sentiment toward the U.S. economy. The S&P MidCap 400 Index <.mid> overcame a technical level by confirming its close above 1,000 for a second week.


"We view the outperformance of the mid-caps and the break of that level as a strong sign for the overall market," Schaeffer's Bell said.


"Whenever you have flight to risk, it shows investors are beginning to have more of a risk appetite."


Evidence of that shift could be a spike in shares in the defense sector, expected to take a hit as defense spending is a key component of the budget talks.


The PHLX defense sector index <.dfx> hit a historic high on Thursday, and far outperformed the market on Friday with a dip of just 0.26 percent, while the three major U.S. stock indexes finished the day down about 1 percent.


Following a half-day on Wall Street on Monday ahead of the Christmas holiday, Wednesday will bring the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. It is expected to show a ninth-straight month of gains.


U.S. jobless claims on Thursday are seen roughly in line with the previous week's level, with the forecast at 360,000 new filings for unemployment insurance, compared with the previous week's 361,000.


(Wall St Week Ahead runs every Friday. Questions or comments on this column can be emailed to: rodrigo.campos(at)thomsonreuters.com)


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Falcons top Lions 31-18 for home-field advantage


DETROIT (AP) — Matt Ryan got what he wanted.


Calvin Johnson was forced to settle for what he could get.


Ryan matched a career high with four touchdown passes, two to Roddy White, to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the Detroit Lions 31-18 Saturday night and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.


"It's great," Ryan said. "Our confidence is high and our experience — good and bad — has helped us. The key is to keep the focus where it's been."


In yet another loss, Johnson had a record-breaking night.


Johnson broke Jerry Rice's NFL single-season yards receiving mark of 1,848. After making the record-breaking catch in the fourth quarter, Johnson jogged over to the sideline and handed the football to his father.


"That was a very special moment," he said.


Johnson also became the only player with 100 yards receiving in eight straight games and the first with 10 receptions in four games in a row in league history. He had 11 receptions for 225 yards, giving him 1,892 this season.


"I've been an NFL fan my whole life, dating back to watching Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry as a kid, and I've coached in this league for 19 years," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "I've seen a lot of Hall of Famers, but I've never seen a better player than Calvin Johnson.


"He just broke a record set by Jerry Rice, who is arguably the best player in this history of this league."


The Falcons (13-2) pulled away with Ryan's fourth TD pass to wide-open tight end Michael Palmer in the fourth quarter and Matt Bryant's 20-yard field goal with 3:05 left that gave them a 15-point lead.


Ryan was 25 of 32 for 279 yards without a turnover.


The Falcons hope playing at home, potentially throughout the conference playoffs, helps them more than it did after the 2010 and 1980 seasons. The Falcons failed to win a game in either postseason, getting routed by Green Bay two years ago and blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to Dallas three decades ago.


Atlanta advanced to its only Super Bowl with a win at Minnesota after winning a franchise-record 14 games during the 1998 season.


The Falcons won't have much incentive to match that mark next week at home against Tampa Bay, when they'll have nothing to gain and something to lose if a key player or more gets hurt.


Detroit (4-11) has been relegated to playing for pride this month and that hasn't been going very well.


The Lions, whose seven-game losing streak is the longest skid in the league, haven't struggled this much since the laughingstock of a franchise became the league's first to go 0-16 in 2008.


The Falcons led 21-3 at halftime before letting the Lions pull within five points early in the fourth quarter.


Ryan dashed Detroit's comeback hopes.


Facing intense pressure, he converted a third down in Atlanta territory with a pass to White, picked on rookie cornerback Jonte Green by throwing to Jones to pick up more first downs and found Tony Gonzalez open to convert another third down to set up his fourth TD pass.


"We didn't play well in the third quarter," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "Matt made some big throws on that drive."


Stafford was clearly trying to get the ball to Johnson on the next drive and cornerback Asante Samuel figured that out, stepping in front of the receiver for an interception to set up Bryant's field goal.


Atlanta running back Michael Turner was tackled in the end zone, after Detroit turned the ball over on downs, to give the Lions two meaningless points.


Ryan went deep to White for the first score, connecting with him on a 44-yard TD strike with 5:50 left in the first quarter. Ryan threw a short pass to him early in the second quarter and the standout receiver did the rest on a 39-yard sprint down the sideline.


Ryan put his third TD pass where only Julio Jones could catch it a corner of the end zone, and he did on a 16-yard reception that put Atlanta up 21-3.


Detroit didn't give up, a game after being accused of doing just that in a 38-10 loss at Arizona.


Jason Hanson kicked a second field goal late in the first half to make it 21-6.


After Atlanta opened the second half with a three-and-out drive, Mikel Leshoure scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter to pull the Lions with eight points.


Hanson's third field goal made it 21-16.


Stafford finished 37 of 56 for 443 yards with an interception and the Lions say he set an NFL record for the most yards passing in a game without throwing a TD pass.


Detroit dug a big hole because the Falcons scored two TDs off turnovers in the first half.


Defensive end Kroy Biermann forced running Leshoure to fumble, giving the Falcons the ball at their 31 and they took advantage. Ryan's perfectly lofted pass to White's fingertips converted a third-and-1 in a big way, putting the Falcons ahead.


The Lions responded with another drive into Atlanta territory, but stalled and had to settle for Hanson's 34-yard field goal in the final minute of the opening quarter to pull within four points.


Atlanta earned a double-digit lead on the ensuing drive.


Ryan threw a screen pass to his left to White, who got a great block from tight end Gonzalez, and the receiver raced untouched for a score that put the Falcons ahead 14-3.


White finished with eight receptions for 153 yards and two TDs. Jones had seven receptions for 71 yards and a score.


Ryan completed his first 12 attempts and, after his first incomplete pass, he converted a third-and-10 with an 11-yard toss to Jacquizz Rodgers. Two plays later, Ryan matched a season high with a third TD pass on the connection with Jones. Prior to the game, Ryan hadn't started a game with more than 10 consecutive completions, according to STATS LLC. He started 10 for 10 last month against Tampa Bay.


Johnson had three receptions for 70 yards in the first quarter, breaking Herman Moore's single-season franchise record for yards receiving.


By halftime, Johnson had 117 yards receiving. He had 100 yards receiving for an eighth straight game, breaking a record set by Charley Hennigan in 1961 and matched by Michael Irvin in 1995. It was Johnson's 11th game with 100 yards receiving this season, tying Irvin's NFL mark.


"Calvin is one of the best players in the game and I think everybody is a big fan of his," Ryan said. "He's one of the most genuinely nice people you could meet."


Stafford connected with Johnson on a short crossing route and the receiver did the rest, outrunning Falcons on a 49-yard gain. Fittingly, the Lions turned the ball over on the next snap in the latest lowlight in a season full of them.


The Lions, Falcons and fans at Ford Field in Detroit honored the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the game. Players had memorial decals on their helmets that read "S.H.E.S." in white on a black background, and Detroit's coaches wore pins with a similar design. There was also a moment of silence before the national anthem while the names and ages of each victim were shown on the videoboards. Twenty children and six adults were killed in the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza killed his mother, shot students and staff, then killed himself.


NOTES: Stafford, in his fourth season, has 1,090 career completions to surpass Bobby Layne's franchise record of 1,074. Stafford is seven attempts away from surpassing the NFL's single-season mark of 691 set by Drew Bledsoe with New England in 1994. ... Backup Falcons CB Christopher Owens had a hamstring injury.


___


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL


___


Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage


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Holiday Gift to Stargazers: The Christmas Sky






The Yuletide evening sky is especially rewarding, with much of the eastern swathe filled with brilliant stars — sort of a celestial Christmas tree.


Distinctive groupings of stars forming part of the recognized constellation outlines, or lying within their boundaries, are known as asterisms. Ranging in size from sprawling naked-eye figures to minute stellar settings, they are found in every quarter of the sky and at all seasons of the year. 






The larger asterisms — ones like the Big Dipper in Ursa Major and the Great Square of Pegasus — are often better known than their host constellations. One of the most famous is in the northwest these frosty December evenings. 


The Northern Cross


The brightest six stars of the constellation Cygnus (the Swan) — which was known simply as the “Bird” in ancient times — compose an asterism popularly called the Northern Cross. [Night Sky Observing Guide for December 2012 (Gallery)]


Bright Deneb decorates the top of the Cross. Albereo, at the foot of the Cross, is really a pair of stars of beautifully contrasting colors: a third-magnitude orange star and its fifth-magnitude blue companion are clearly visible in even a low-power telescope. (In astronomy, lower magnitudes signify relatively brighter objects. Venus’ magnitude is around -5, for example, while the full moon’s is about -13.)


While usually regarded as a summertime pattern, the Northern Cross is best oriented for viewing now. It  appears to stand majestically upright on the northwest horizon at around 8:30 p.m. local time, forming an appropriate Christmas symbol. (And just before dawn on Easter morning, the cross lies on its side in the eastern sky.)


The Christmas package


Look over toward the southeast part of the sky at about the same time, 8:30 p.m. or so. Can you see a large package in the sky, tied with a pretty bow across the middle? Four bright stars outline the package, while three others make up the decorative bow. [Stunning Night Sky Photos of December 2012]


Now you can see how our modern imagination might work, but tradition tells us that those seven stars formed a mighty hunter called Orion, the most brilliant of the constellations and visible from every inhabited part of the Earth. Two stars mark his shoulders, two more his knees and three his belt.


As is also the case with the mighty Hercules, the figure of Orion has been associated in many ancient cultures with great national heroes, warriors or demigods. Yet in contrast to Hercules, who was credited with a detailed series of exploits, Orion seems to us a vague and shadowy figure. 


The ancient mythological stories of Orion are so many and so confused that it is almost impossible to choose among them. Even the origin of the name Orion is obscure, though some scholars have suggested a connection with the Greek “Arion,” meaning “warrior.” 


The myths all tend to agree that he was the mightiest hunter in the world, and he is always pictured in the stars with his club upraised in his right hand. Hanging from his upraised left hand is the skin of a great lion he has killed. Orion is brandishing this skin in the face of Taurus, the Bull, who is charging him.  


The heavenly manger


The legendary French astronomer Nicolas Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) referred to the three belt stars of Orion as “The Three Kings.” If we consider these three stars to represent the Magi, then it’s fitting that the star cluster known as Preasepe,(the Manger) lies not far to the east, within the faint zodiacal constellation of Cancer.


A manger is a trough or open box in which feed for horses or cattle is placed. The Book of St. Luke tells us that the baby Jesus was set down in a manger because there was no room at the local inn. In our current Yuletide evening sky, Preasepe thus can represent the manger where Christ was placed… 


The constellation Cancer is practically an empty space in the sky, positioned between the Twin Stars (Pollux and Castor) of Gemini and the Sickle of Leo. It’s completely devoid of any bright stars and would probably not be considered a constellation at all, if not for the fact that there had to be a sign of the Zodiac between Gemini and Leo.


In the middle of Cancer are two stars called the Aselli (“donkeys”) that are feeding from the manger; Asselus Borealis and Asselus Australis bracket Preasepe to the north and south, respectively.


To the unaided eye, the manger appears as a soft, fuzzy patch or dim glow. But in good binoculars and low-power telescopes, it is a beautiful object to behold, appearing to contain a smattering of several dozen stars. Using his crude telescope, Galileo wrote in 1610 of seeing Preasepe not as one fuzzy star, but as  ” . . . a mass of more than 40 small stars.” 


The shepherd’s star


If you are up about an hour or so before sunrise, look toward the east-southeast to get a glimpse of what Flammarion described as “The Shepherd’s Star,” the planet Venus. He wrote:


“She shines in the east in the morning, with a splendid brightness which eclipses that of all the stars. She is, without comparison, the most magnificent star of our sky; the star of sweet confidences.”


Indeed, Venus is always bright. This year, it will remind those who rise early on Christmas morning of the Biblical “Star in the East.”


Telescope targets


Venus may be rather disappointing to those who receive a telescope as a holiday gift, appearing as nothing more than a dazzling disk of light. But there are two other splendid planetary targets to gaze at.


That very bright ‘star” that you notice at day’s end in December, glowing about one-quarter of the way up from the east-northeast horizon right after sundown, is actually Jupiter. The gas giant is a superb telescopic showpiece, with cloud bands crossing its disk and a retinue of four large moons. On Christmas night, Jupiter will be visible just above the waxing gibbous moon, making for an eye-catching sight.


And lastly, in the predawn morning sky is “the lord of the rings,” Saturn, which this week rises above the east-southeast horizon around 3 a.m. local time and just before sunrise can be found about 30 degrees above and to the right of Venus.


Your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures about 10 degrees, so Saturn will appear about “three fists” up and to Venus’s right. .A telescope magnifying 30-power or more will reveal Saturn’s famous rings, now tilted almost 19 degrees to our line of sight.


Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York. Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+. 


Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Title Post: Holiday Gift to Stargazers: The Christmas Sky
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Senators slam movie's torture scenes




In the new film "Zero Dark Thirty," Jessica Chastain plays a CIA analyst who is part of the team hunting Osama bin Laden.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Sens. Feinstein, McCain, Levin send letter calling new film "grossly inaccurate"

  • Letter adds to controversy over depiction of torture as a key to finding bin Laden, Bergen says

  • Senate committee has approved 6,000-page classified report on CIA interrogations program

  • Bergen says as much as possible of that report should be released to the public




Editor's note: Peter Bergen is a CNN national security analyst and author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad."


(CNN) -- On Wednesday, three senior U.S. senators sent Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures, a letter about "Zero Dark Thirty," the much-discussed new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which described the film as "grossly inaccurate and misleading."


In the letter, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, expressed their "deep disappointment" in the movie's depiction of CIA officers torturing prisoners, which "credits these detainees with providing critical lead information" about the courier who led the CIA to bin Laden's hiding place in northern Pakistan.


The senators point out that the filmmakers of "Zero Dark Thirty" open the movie with the words that it is "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." The film then goes on, the senators say, to give the clear implication "that the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden."


Review: 'Zero Dark Thirty' is utterly gripping



Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen



The senators write that this is not supported by the facts: "We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect."


Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to sign off on the findings of its three-year study of the CIA's detention and interrogation program, during the course of which the committee's staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of records about the program.


Based on the findings of that review, Sens. Feinstein and Levin had released a statement eight months ago that said, "The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier's identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques. ... Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program."


In their letter to Sony, the three senators write, "(W)ith the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. ... We believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts."


Requests from Sony Pictures for comment on the senators' letter yielded a response referring to a statement that the film's director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had released last week:


"This was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two-and-a-half-hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes. One thing is clear: the single greatest factor in finding the world's most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort. We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."


'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight










"Zero Dark Thirty" does indeed show many scenes of the various forms of sleuthing at the CIA that were necessary to track down al Qaeda's leader.


But the statement from the filmmakers does not address the fact that eight months ago, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee had publicly said that based on an exhaustive investigation, there was no evidence that coercive interrogations helped lead to bin Laden's courier -- which is clearly what the film suggests, no matter what retrospective gloss the filmmakers now wish to apply to the issue.


Nor does the statement indicate if Sony plans to put a disclaimer at the beginning of "Zero Dark Thirty" explaining that the role of coercive interrogations in tracking down bin Laden that is shown in the film is not supported by the facts.


As I outlined in a piece on CNN.com 10 days ago assessing the role that coercive interrogations might have played in the hunt for bin Laden, about half an hour of the start of "Zero Dark Thirty" consists of scenes of a bloodied al Qaeda detainee strung to the ceiling with ropes who is beaten; forced to wear a dog collar while crawling around attached to a leash; stripped naked in the presence of a female CIA officer; blasted with heavy metal music so he is deprived of sleep; forced to endure multiple crude waterboardings; and locked into a coffin-like wooden crate.


These are the scenes that will linger with filmgoers, far more than the scene in the movie where two CIA analysts discuss what will prove to be a key lead to bin Laden that surfaces in an old file. Brutal interrogations, of course, make for a better movie than a discussion at the office.


It is only after systematic abuse by his CIA interrogators in "Zero Dark Thirty" that the al Qaeda detainee is tricked into believing that he has already given up key information, and he starts cooperating and tells them about a man known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who ultimately proves to be bin Laden's courier.


Acting CIA director Michael Morell, in a letter to CIA employees on Friday, took strong exception to this portrayal of how bin Laden was found:


"The film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. "


"Zero Dark Thirty" opened Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and will open nationwide in the second week in January.


Let's hope that the attention that "Zero Dark Thirty" has directed to the issue of what kind of intelligence was derived from the CIA's coercive interrogations will help to put pressure on the White House and the CIA to release to the public as much as possible of the presently classified 6,000-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that examines this issue.


_____________


Full disclosure: Along with other national security experts, as an unpaid adviser I screened an early cut of "Zero Dark Thirty." We advised that al Qaeda detainees held at secret CIA prison sites overseas were certainly abused, but they were not beaten to a pulp, as was presented in this early cut. Screenwriter Mark Boal told CNN as a result of this critique, some of the bloodier scenes were "toned down" in the final cut. I also saw this final cut of the film. Finally, HBO is making a theatrical release documentary which will be out in 2013 based on my book about the hunt for bin Laden entitled "Manhunt."


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Police, FBI search for Batavia bank robber













Man wanted in Batavia bank robbery


Surveillance photos of a man wanted in connection with a Saturday bank robbery in Batavia.
(Photos from Batavia police and FBI / December 23, 2012)



























































Batavia police and the FBI are looking for an armed man who robbed a bank in the west suburban city Saturday morning.


According to a press release from the city, the man, who displayed a black semi-automatic handgun, robbed Old Second National Bank, 1078 E. Wilson St., at 10:08 a.m. Saturday.


The man, who got away with an undisclosed amount of money, is described in the release as being a white male, approximately 25-30 years old, standing 5 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall wearing blue jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head and a black scarf covering his face.





After the robbery, he left the area in a white or light-colored smaller 4-door sedan, the release said.


Anyone with information is asked to contact the Batavia police (630-454-2500) or the FBI (312-421-6700).


chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking






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Egyptians back new constitution in referendum


CAIRO (Reuters) - An Islamist-backed Egyptian constitution won approval in a referendum, rival camps said on Sunday, after a vote the opposition said would sow deep social divisions in the Arab world's most populous nation.


The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled President Mohamed Mursi to power in a June election, said an unofficial tally showed 64 percent of voters backed the charter after two rounds of voting that ended with a final ballot on Saturday.


An opposition official also told Reuters their unofficial count showed the result was a "yes" vote, while party spokesmen said there had been a series of abuses during the voting.


The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, responded to the defeat by saying it was moving towards forming a single political party to challenge the Islamists who have dominated the ballot box since strongman Hosni Mubarak was overthrown two years ago.


Members of the opposition, taking heart from a low turnout of about 30 percent of voters, pledged to keep up pressure on Mursi through peaceful protests and other democratic means.


"The referendum is not the end of the road," said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front. "It is only the beginning of a long struggle for Egypt's future."


The referendum committee may not declare official results for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals. If the outcome is confirmed, a parliamentary election will follow in about two months.


Mursi's Islamist backers say the constitution is vital for the transition to democracy, nearly two years after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising. It will provide the stability needed to help a fragile economy, they say.


The constitution was "a historic opportunity to unite all national powers on the basis of mutual respect and honest dialogue for the sake of stabilizing the nation," the Brotherhood said in a statement.


RECIPE FOR UNREST


The opposition accuses Mursi of pushing through a text that favors Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women. They say it is a recipe for further unrest.


The opposition said voting in both rounds was marred by abuses. However, an official said the overall vote favored the charter.


"The majority is not big and the minority is not small," liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said, adding that the National Salvation Front would use "all peaceful, democratic means" such as protests to challenge the constitution.


The vote was split over two days as many judges had refused to supervise the ballot, making a single day of voting impossible.


During the build-up to the vote there were deadly protests, sparked by Mursi's decision to award himself extra powers in a November 22 decree and then to fast-track the constitutional vote.


The new basic law sets a limit of two four-year presidential terms. It says the principles of sharia, Islamic law, remain the main source of legislation but adds an article to explain this. It also says Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia - a source of concern to Christians and others.


ABUSES


Rights groups reported what they said were illegalities in voting procedures. They said some polling stations opened late, that Islamists illegally campaigned at some polling places, and complained of irregularities in voter registration.


But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on December 15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million voters. About 25 million were eligible to vote in the second round.


The Brotherhood said turnout was about a third of voters.


The opposition says the constitution will stir up more trouble on the streets since it has not received sufficiently broad backing for a document that should be agreed by consensus, and raised questions about the fairness of the vote.


In the first round, the district covering most of Cairo voted "no," which opponents said showed the depth of division.


"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party and a member of the opposition Front.


He cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting, and said anger against Mursi was growing. "People are not going to accept the way they are dealing with the situation."


At least eight people were killed in protests outside the presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals clashed in Alexandria, the second-biggest city, on the eves of both voting days.


(Writing by Edmund Blair and Giles Elgood; editing by Philippa Fletcher)



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