December 2012

December's got the strong Geminid meteor shower, some good lunar encounters, and a nice Christmas evening very close encounter between the Moon and Jupiter.

EVENTS...

Last Quarter Moon - 6th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

10th - Close Encounter - Saturn & Moon - Get up before sunrise, look ESE, and if you have a good view of the horizon (and maybe binoculars would help) Saturn will be about 5˚ to the left of a very thin crescent Moon.

11th - Close Encounter - Venus & Moon - Get up before sunrise, look ESE, and you'll see bright Venus about 2˚ up and to the left of the very thin crescent Moon.  Mercury might even be visible below and to the left of them.

New Moon - 13th (darkest skies)

13th, 14th - Geminid Meteor Shower - It's a good year for the Geminids, which supposedly produce 120 meteors per hour, though you'll probably see less, depending on your light pollution levels.  Still, this is one of the best of the year and definitely worth getting out for

Some advice for watching:

Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

Look toward Gemini (in the East). That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from.  Keep a wide eye and try to take in the whole sky, instead of staring at one spot or through binoculars or a telescope.

Dress in multiple layers and bring hot chocolate

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear (weather.com has a good map here)

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something.

14th-15th - Close Encounter - Moon & Mars - On the 14th, look SW after sunset (around 5pm) and find the very thin waxing crescent Moon low on the horizon.  About 8˚ to the left will be Mars.  The next night the Moon will be about 9˚ above Mars.

First Quarter Moon - 20th (Visible until midnight)

21st - Winter Solstice - Shortest day and longest night of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere.  The world does not end.

25th - VERY Close Encounter - Moon & Jupiter - Jupiter will be about 1˚ to the left of the Full Moon.  Just find the Moon, and you'll find Jupiter right there.  In fact, if you live in southern Africa or South America, you'll be able to see the Moon occult (block) Jupiter.

Full Moon - 28th (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset - Mars (SW), Jupiter (E)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Jupiter (E to S to W)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Venus (SE), Saturn (SE), Mercury (SE)

Mercury - Look to the SE in the morning before sunrise.  Find Spica, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury all in a line descending in that order.  Close to the Moon on the 11th.

Venus - Not as high, but still a morning "star" this month. The brightest object in the morning East, will be lowest at 5:30am, rising up to about 20˚ by daybreak.  Closest to the Moon on the 11th.

Mars - In the SW after sunset, and sets around 6:15pm.  Look for the reddish-hued object only no more than 10˚ above the horizon.  Close to the Moon on the 14th and 15th.

JUPITER - Rises in the East after sunset and visible until about 6am. Close to the Moon on the 25th.  Use binoculars or a telescope to try to see the four Galilean Moons.  If you're looking at Taurus in the morning, Jupiter's the very bright one near the V of Taurus.

Saturn - Look SE in the mornings before sunrise.  Gets higher and higher every day and gets up to 35˚ above the horizon by the end of the month.  Close to the Moon on the 10th.

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.



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