December 2014

To see a video of this information, go to my YouTube Channel

 

December is host to the Geminid Meteor Shower, the Winter Solstice, Mars and Jupiter easily visible, and a couple close encounters between the Moon and the planets as it goes through its cycle of phases.

 

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

Planets you can see around Sunset – Mars (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (E)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (SW), Saturn (SE)

 

Mercury – In the Sun’s glare this month

 

Venus Venus is now in the Sun’s glare for most of the month.  You MIGHT be able to catch it toward the end of the month right after sunset in the SW.  You probably need binoculars since it’s low on the horizon in the light of dusk.

 

Mars – Look in the SW after sunset and look for the visibly red “star”.  It’s hanging out in the relative middle of the Milky Way.  Get out before 8pm, since that’s about when Mars sets or is too low to be seen. Close to the Moon on the 24th.

 

Jupiter – The best time to look for it in the E is after 11pm with a clear horizon, continuing on until sunrise. Look to the right of Leo’s brightest star Regulus – the point in the “Backwards Question Mark” of Leo.  Don’t forget the binoculars or telescope for the Galilean Moons and the cloud bands on its surface.  Close to the Moon on the 11th. 

 

Saturn – You MIGHT be able to catch Saturn in the SE in the mornings this month, with it rising earlier and higher as the month goes on.  This means your best chance to catch it this month is around Christmas and New Year’s Day, when it rises at 5am and is about 20˚ above the horizon by sunrise. Close to the Moon on the 19th in the morning.


EVENTS...

Full Moon – 5th (Visible all night)

11thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Get out after 10:30pm and look East for a Gibbous Moon with Jupiter 6˚ up and to the left.  Also, note bright Regulus to the left of the Moon, making a nice triangle with Jupiter.

Last Quarter Moon – 14th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

13th, 14thGeminid Meteor Shower – It’s a good year for the Geminids, which produces 80 meteors per hour, though you’ll probably see a little bit less, depending on your light pollution levels.  Best time is after midnight

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. 

19thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Get out after 5:30am and look East for a very thin crescent Moon with Saturn 5˚ below.  By 6:30am, they’ll both probably be invisible to the naked eye, due to dawn’s light.

New Moon – 22nd (darkest skies)

23rdClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – It’ll be tough, but if you get out after sunset (around 5pm) on this day, you might be able to catch Venus low on the Horizon and the very thin crescent Moon about 10˚ above it. Venus is below the horizon by 5:30 and the Moon at 6:30.

24thClose Encounter – Moon, Mars – Get out after sunset but before 7:30pm on the 24th and look Southwest to find a thin crescent Moon with Mars 6˚ to the left.  This should be easier to find than Venus yesterday.

First Quarter Moon – 28th (Visible until midnight)

 

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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