With this post I am starting monthly posts about upcoming celestial events. So what we expect to see in December?
The Sun will move from the constellation of Ophiuchus, where it was at the beginning of December, to the constellation Sagittarius on December 18th.
In December, each morning sunrise gets a little later and sunset gets a little earlier each afternoon. Things will be like that till the last week of December, when the evenings will slowly get longer again. The mornings, however, will start get lighter only after New Year day.
The shortest day of the year is Thursday December 22nd. This is the Winter Solstice, when the Sun reaches its most southerly point in the sky.
New Moon is on 25th November. In December, the crescent Moon will be visible in the western sky for most of the evening, starting ~ 3:45 PM.
The last total lunar eclipse for 2011 – December 10
On December 10th, we expect to see the last total lunar eclipse for this year. The map of visibility is available from the NASA web site. Partial phase begins at 7:46 am EST, so hopefully we will see at least beginning of eclipse. Read more about it from the NASA web site.
On December 23rd, Mercury will be at its greatest distance west of the Sun. So there is a possibility to see this little planet before sunrise.
In the evening of December 23rd, Mercury will be visible directly above the waning Moon.
In December, Jupiter will be well up in the south-eastern and will appear brighter than any of the stars. Some of Jupiter’s four major moons may be well seen even in binoculars, as tiny bright points close to the planet. They are easiest to see at twilight, when the light from the planet itself is not so dazzling.
Geminid meteors may be seen any time between December 7th and 16th. And the first week of January brings the Quadrantids.
The Geminid meteor shower will reach its zenith on the night of December 13 and continue overnight into the early morning hours. The predicted peak is just after midnight on December 14.
However, an almost full Moon will prevent an optimum viewing this year, hopefully we will see something, because at peak we expect to have at 140 meteors an hour.
In North America, Canada and US East Coast the best viewing is on December 14th night. Although, because Geminids are a several nights event, additional good views (however,less spectacular) will be available during several days/nights after the peak.
The Sun is currently emerging from a long solar minimum and displays an unusual activity. So we might expect to see Northern Lights. There have been a few faint auroras this Fall, and more could happen at any time. So just go and check the northern sky, on any clear, dark night.