What's Up? - December
Each month I highlight a few objects you can spot in the night sky without the need for optical equipment. Here are the exciting things for December!
Example of the position of Venus - see the bright star Arcturus higher in the sky early morning.
For you early risers Venus remains a beautiful sight during the month of December. At the beginning
of the month Venus rises in the southeast about 2.5 hours before the Sun and by the end of the
month about 1.5 hours. You can’t miss it! If you have good eyesight you’ll be able to spot it is
phased, like the Moon.
Mars has been spectacular over the last few months: shining high in the night sky. It will continue to
perform during December although it will be slightly dimmer this month. It is visible throughout
December, rising at about 20:30 in the southern sky. It certainly appears red so you cannot miss it.
Jupiter and Saturn
Example of Jupiter and Saturn low down in the evening sky – crescent Moon on the 16th December.
Jupiter and Saturn have been paired close together in the night sky for the last two months and this continues during December. They are low in the south western sky, so you’ll need to be quick - spotting them around 17:00 low down near the horizon.
Spot a shooting star!
Between the 4th and the 17th of December there is a meteor shower known as The Geminids (named after the constellation Gemini from where they appear to emanate). The shower peaks on the 13th December, which coincides with the new Moon, meaning they’ll be easier to spot. But look anytime between those dates and you stand a good chance of spotting them.
You will need some patience, but if you have 30 minutes or more to spare on a clear night, especially near the peak of the 13th, then you should spot a number of these tiny fragments of rock. It is remarkable that these tiny grains-of-sand-sized particles put on such a fine display.
You’ll need a lounger, a blanket, a hot water bottle and some whisky. Then watch the Eastern sky. Try not to fall asleep and wake up freezing hours later!
Here is an example of the night sky on the 13th December looking east at 21:00
On the right you will see the prominent constellation of Orion, with the red star Betelgeuse at the
top left- hand shoulder of Orion. To the left of Orion are the two main stars of Gemini, Castor and
Pollux. But don’t worry about trying to spot exact positions or stars, you only need to look east!
At the peak there will be a more than one meteor per minute. Let me know if you spot a shooting
star and if you do, don’t forget to make a wish!
Thank you for reading this blog and do let me know if you spot a shooting star! firstname.lastname@example.org