December skies

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We lead off this month with the Geminid meteor shower. This year the new moon will not hinder meteor watching as the peak of the shower will occur on the night of Dec. 13-14. This year the shower is predicted to produce about 120 meteors per hour (two per minute). Look to the east in the direction of the bright star Castor in Gemini. This should appear to be the radiant (origin point) for the shower. Bundle up as this should be one of the best showers this year. Actually you may see quite a few Geminids for a couple of days before and after the peak.

Jupiter reaches opposition on Dec. 2. Rising at sunset, it will be visible all night long. This will be one of Jupiter’s closest oppositions in many years and it will shine at a very bright apparent magnitude of -2.8. Late night and early morning will place the giant planet high in the sky and ideal for viewing in small telescopes.

Saturn rises around 4 a.m. at the beginning of the month and its westward trek will have it rising by 2:30 a.m. at the end of the month. The beautiful rings are once again opening to our view and are tilted 19 degrees from edge-on throughout the month.

Mercury will have one of its best apparitions for mid-northern latitudes beginning on the first and lasting through the end of the month. Looking east, about an hour before sunrise, Mercury and Venus will keep close company for the first half of the month separated by only 6.3 degrees on the 6th.

Venus begins the month only five degrees from Saturn but the separation grows as Saturn climbs higher in the early morning sky and Venus begins it decent toward the horizon. At magnitude -3.9, Venus easily outshines everything in the pre-dawn sky.

The moon will be last quarter on the 6th, new on the 13th, first quarter on the 19th, and full on the 28th. Looking to the southeast about an hour before sunrise on Dec. 9 through 11, the waning crescent moon will pass the bright star Spica in Virgo on the 9th, followed by the ringed planet Saturn on the 10th and finally just below and to the right of dazzling Venus on the 11th.

Looking east on Christmas night, about an hour after sunset, the nearly full moon will be just one degree from the giant planet Jupiter and above the bright star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus.

In the northern hemisphere winter officially begins at 4:12 a.m. MST on Dec. 21.

Clear Skies!