STAR TRAK for December

Dec 01, 2011

Venus will be at its dazzling brightest as December begins, appearing in the southwestern sky after sunset. This beautiful "evening star" will set two hours after the sun on Dec. 1 and an hour later at month's end.

Jupiter will come into view almost halfway up the southeastern as evening falls. It will be highest in the south around 8 p.m. local time and set in the early morning hours.

Mars will rise above the eastern horizon shortly before midnight on Dec. 1 and an hour earlier by month's end. The red-orange planet will contrast sharply with the rather colorless stars around it. The best telescopic views of Mars will be when it is highest in the south before dawn.

Saturn will rise with the bright white star Spica to its right (south) a few hours after midnight in December. The planet's steady yellow glow will be slightly brighter than the twinkling star. The pair will be halfway up the southeastern sky as begins. Saturn's rings will be tilted 15 degrees to our line of sight by the end of the month, their maximum for 2011.

Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun on Dec. 4 and then quickly climb into the morning sky. By midmonth it will be 6 degrees above the southeastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

Meteor showers

The annual , which will reach its maximum on the night of Dec. 13-14, usually offers the best show of the year, outperforming even the of August. This year, unfortunately, the will peak when the moon is just four days past full and in the same part of the sky as the shower's radiant, the point from which the will appear to come. The bright moonlight will wash out many of the meteors that would otherwise be visible. In a clear sky with no interference from moonlight, observers might see more than 100 meteors per hour. The nights before and after the peak should also provide good viewing opportunities.

These "shooting stars" will seem to come from a point near the Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins, which gives the shower its name. The radiant will be well above the eastern horizon a few hours after sundown and will remain high in the sky for the rest of the night. The higher the radiant is above the horizon, the more meteors there will be. Try facing southeast if you have a clear view in that direction, though meteors will be visible in all parts of the sky. For details about the Geminid shower, visit www.amsmeteors.org/showers.html#geminids.

The Ursid meteor shower will peak on the night of Dec. 22-23, with no interference from the new moon. The Ursid radiant is near the bright star Polaris, the North Star, which is above the northern horizon and visible all night. The usual rate is about 10 meteors per hour.

Lunar eclipse

The moon will pass through Earth's shadow on the night of Dec. 10-11, producing a total lunar eclipse. Weather permitting, people across western North America, Australia and Asia will be able to see totality. For those in the Midwestern United States, the moon will set as the eclipse is beginning, and observers east of a line from Ohio to Mississippi won't see any of the eclipse. Details and a map are available at www.skyandtelescope.com/observ… ights/112572744.html.

Solstice

The sun will be farthest south in Earth's sky at 12:30 a.m. EST (5:30 Universal Time) Dec. 22, marking the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be getting longer.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on Dec. 2, full on Dec. 10, at third quarter on Dec. 17 and new on Dec. 24.

Explore further: Chilly end for sex geckos sent into space by Russia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

STAR TRAK for December

Dec 03, 2010

The moon will pass through Earth's shadow on the night of Dec. 20-21, producing the first total lunar eclipse in nearly three years. Weather permitting, people across North America and the Pacific Ocean will ...

STAR TRAK for November

Nov 03, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Jupiter will be easy to see in the east as night falls in November. The bright planet was at opposition on Oct. 29, so during November it will still be visible almost all night at its maximum ...

STAR TRAK for May 2011

May 06, 2011

The closest gathering of four bright planets in decades will be on display low in the eastern sky before dawn during May.

Saturn only visible planet through the month of April

Apr 01, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- For those who enjoy viewing clusters of planets, the evening sky in April may be a bit disappointing. Saturn will be the only planet visible for most of the night, until the sky starts to ...

Recommended for you

Observing the onset of a magnetic substorm

2 hours ago

Magnetic substorms, the disruptions in geomagnetic activity that cause brightening of aurora, may sometimes be driven by a different process than generally thought, a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Ph ...

We are all made of stars

5 hours ago

Astronomers spend most of their time contemplating the universe, quite comfortable in the knowledge that we are just a speck among billions of planets, stars and galaxies. But last week, the Australian astronomical ...

ESA video: The ATV-5 Georges Lemaitre loading process

5 hours ago

This time-lapse video shows the ATV-5 Georges Lemaitre loading process and its integration on the Ariane 5 launcher before its transfer and launch to the International Space Station from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French ...

Titan's subsurface reservoirs modify methane rainfall

7 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The international Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan, mostly in its polar regions. These lakes are filled not with water ...

User comments : 0