To see a video of this information, go to my YouTube Channel
Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next. Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed.
This year, December brings us good views of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, maybe some Geminid Meteors, a good Lunar occultation of Aldebaran, and hopefully good news for the Pequea Valley Planetarium.
Regarding the Planetarium grant competition…as of this recording, we still haven’t heard results. If you recall, the 6 proposals that get the most votes will each get $100,000. We got rankings at both 2 weeks and 3 weeks into the month-long voting, and we were in 3rd place out of 15 both times! That makes me fairly confident that you, the astronomy community made this happen, but I do NOT have official word yet. It sounds like they are going to do the job of notification a la Publisher’s Clearinghouse, so you’ll know when I know.
PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye
Planets you can see around Sunset – Venus (SW), Mars (S), Mercury? (SW)
Planets you can see throughout the night – None
Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (E)
Mercury – VERY low – 10˚above the horizon at sunset for about the first two weeks of December
Venus – Look SW after sunset, and Venus will be about 20˚ above the horizon, very bright, and will set by 8:00pm. If you have a telescope, check out how it changes from a gibbous phase to a larger half Venus.
Mars – Look SSW after sunset and bring a sky map of Capricornus. Mars will be the ruddy red object moving away from the Capricornus triangle and into Aquarius. Visible until about 9:00pm, when it sets in the SW.
Saturn – Not visible this month
Jupiter – Catch Jupiter in the eastern sky in the morning after 3:30am in the beginning of the month, and 2am by the end of the month. Just look for the very bright object in that direction in the morning. You should notice it easily and watch it get higher and higher each morning.
2nd–3rd – Close Encounter – Moon, Venus – Look to the SW between 5pm and 7pm and you can catch a thin crescent Moon only 8˚ to the right of bright Venus on the 2nd, a brilliant pair! On the 3rd, the Moon moves to about 7˚ ABOVE Venus, again a brilliant pair.
4th–5th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars – Look SW once the sky is starting to get dark, and find a nice crescent Moon. On the 4th, Mars will be about 6˚ to the left of the Moon. The following night, the Moon will have moved to be about 7˚ up and to the left of Mars.
First Quarter Moon – 7th (Visible until midnight)
Lunar Occultation – night of the 12th – The Moon will pass in front of the bright red star Aldebaran. Times vary by location, but D.C. will witness disappearance at 11:07pm and reappearance at 12:21am. See https://is.gd/occndec2016 for more info.
Full Moon – 13th (Visible all night)
13th, 14th – Geminid Meteor Shower – It’s NOT a good year for the Geminids, given the Full Moon on that night, but you should still see some of the best and brightest meteors. Keep a wide eye and try to take in the whole sky, but don’t stare at the Moon.
Last Quarter Moon – 20th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
21st – Winter Solstice - The longest night and shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. More info here: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html
22nd – Close Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Look SE after 2:00am and before sunrise (7:24am). Look for a thin crescent Moon rising up from the horizon, with Jupiter just 4˚ down and to the left.
New Moon – 29th (darkest skies)
CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb) Look straight up and you'll see...
After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm) – Pegasus, Andromeda - Extra Challenge! Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy. It’ll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda.
Between Sunset and Midnight – Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia
Midnight – Auriga, Taurus, Gemini
Early Morning – Ursa Major’s legs, Leo Minor
GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:
Fall Constellations: Andromeda, Pegasus
If you can find the Summer Triangle and Delphinus in the West, about 40˚ to the East (leftish – pretty much straight above you) will be the Great Square of the fall constellation Pegasus. Perhaps you’ll even see the two curves of Andromeda off of one side, with the Andromeda Galaxy as a small, faint fuzzy nearby (you’ll need dark skies to see it). A sky map will help you tremendously in finding these.
Winter constellations: Orion is easy to spot as he is rising in the East around 7:30pm. You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.
Using Orion: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the East around 7:30pm. If you draw a line from the left (bottom) star to the right (top) star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V). Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.
Draw a line from the right (top) star in Orion’s belt to the left (bottom) star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.
Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga. The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky. Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga). It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.