Things to remember in the skies of December

By Francis Parnell

For December, we can look forward to the annual Geminid Meteor Shower, some nice planetary and lunar pairings, and the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn since 1623! After sunset on the 3rd, the waning gibbous Moon is 4 degrees lower right of Pollux, the brightest star in Gemini, the Twins. Pollux is 10 times the Sun’s diameter, 33 times brighter and 34 light-years distant. On the night of the 13th, the annual Geminid Meteor Shower peaks with a rate of 120 meteors per hour for an observer under dark skies. Gemini rises in the east, so go out around 9 p.m., scan the sky in all directions and see how many meteors you can count. Looking southwest about 45 minutes after sunset on the 16th, a slender lunar crescent can be spotted about 5 degrees below Jupiter and Saturn. Don’t miss the rare close conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the 21st. The two are only one-tenth of a degree (6 minutes of arc) apart! That’s one-fifth the diameter of the Moon! There has only been one observable closer conjunction, and that was in 1226. Whether you use naked eyes, telescope, or binoculars, don’t miss this event! The waxing gibbous Moon is about 6 degrees below bright red Mars on the 23rd. December’s full Moon occurs on the 29th. Native Americans called it the Full Cold Moon because the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights are long and dark. It was also named the Long Nights Moon because the midwinter night is long and the Moon is above the horizon a long time. The midwinter full Moon takes a high path across the sky because it’s opposite the low winter Sun. Merry Christmas, stay healthy and “Keep looking up!”

Author: Rachel Howell

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