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Urban observing December 2014 part 2 December 15, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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Well, it took a bit longer than I could wish, But here’s part two. At least I didn’t miss what is probably the biggest event of the month…

Of course then I apparently published this as a page instead of a post. Someday I’ll get my act together!

Special Events

The biggest event for December is probably the Geminid meteor shower. With a potential for over 100 meteors per hour, this is the most active shower of the year. Meteors are also slow-moving, making this a good shower to watch with friends. While the peak occurs overnight on the 13th to 14th of December, it is active at least a week before and after, giving observers several chances to get out and look. Given what the weather in the Northern Hemisphere is generally like at this time of year, that’s a huge advantage. Gemini rises before 7 p.m., but should be at its highest around 1 or 2 AM, making the early morning hours the best time to watch.

Gemini with the position of Castor noted

The Geminid radiant is near Castor, which is high in the south at 1 AM on the morning of Dec. 14.

Northern observers should also be on the lookout for the Ursid meteor shower from December 17-23. The peak occurs on the night of December 21-22. However, it is a much less active shower, with typical rates of only 5 to 10 meteors per hour. It is best viewed when the Big Dipper is very high in the sky, which is a few hours before dawn at this time of year, roughly 4 – 6 AM.

The winter solstice of course also occurs in December. This year it falls on December 21, at 6:03 PM Eastern Standard Time, or 23:03 UT.

Moon:

Full on 12/6
New: 12/21
A new moon on the 21st means you’ll have a perfect waxing crescent to try out that new telescope on, which will quickly set and let you look at deep sky objects too!

Planets

Mercury was in superior conjunction on the 8th, So we won’t really see it this month. With a clear Southwest horizon, you might catch it in the last few days of the month.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Moon and Neptune aligned on the ecliptic

Looking southwest at 5:30 PM on December 25

Venus makes its way slowly into the evening skies this month. Start looking for it just after sunset around the 13th. It becomes an easier target at the end of the month. Use binoculars to look for a conjunction with young Crescent moon early in the evening on the 22nd.

Mercury on the Horizon, with Venus and the Moon in the glow of the sunset

A VERY young Moon and Venus 20 minutes after sunset on December 22

The ever-lengthening nights mean that Mars continues to hang out low in the southwest all month. However, as it recedes ever further from us, it gets dimmer and harder to make out any features, even with a good telescope. A crescent moon passes by it on the 24th.

The Moon and Mars in Capricorn.

The Moon and Mars at 6 PM on Christmas eve.

At mid-month, Jupiter rises around 10 PM. By the end of the month, he’ll be up before 9PM. It’s a great target to try out a new telescope on since it is bright and easy to find, but the belts take good contrast to make out easily. Use the sky and telescope out to figure out if the great red Spot should be visible.

Jupiter rising at 11 PM on December 17.

Jupiter rising at 11 PM on December 17.

Saturn is in the morning sky now. The late dawn means you should look for it around 6 or 7 AM. A waning crescent moon pales close to it on the 19th.

The Moon and Saturn in libra near Scorpio

The Moon and Saturn pre-dawn on December 19

Uranus is about 3º north east of a quarter Moon on the evening of the 28th, making that a good time try spot this faint planet.

The Moon and Uranus on December 28

The Moon and Uranus on December 28

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