||December Skywatch Highlights|
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||Ahhh ? the Winter Sky! While I enjoy viewing & sharing the Summer sky, with Scorpius, Sagittarius, the Summer Milky Way, & the great Summer/Navigator's Triangle (still viewable thru early December!); the brilliant stars & constellations of Winter have always been my favorites! Easily recognizable Orion, & neighboring constellations Taurus, Gemini, Auriga, Canis Major & Minor, boast some of the brightest stars in the sky (the Winter Hexagon: Sirius, Procyon, Capella, Aldebaran, Pollux, & Rigel).
Dazzling JUPITER reaches opposition & peak visibility on Dec. 2nd, rising opposite the setting Sun, & dominating the sky all night. The brilliant gas giant appears conspicuous above the eastern horizon soon after sunset. Throughout November, Jupiter appeared between the horns of Taurus the Bull. On Dec. 7th, Jupiter passes 5-degrees due north of Aldebaran, the red-giant star seen as the "eye of the bull." At magnitude minus -2.6, Jupiter is the brightest celestial object other than the Moon & Venus. Jupiter remains a stunning sight all month, & this year's opposition promises to be one of the best. At around midnight at mid-month, Jupiter stands about 70 degrees above the southern horizon. With a small telescope or good binoculars, you can view Jupiter's 4 bright Galilean moons in their ever-changing configurations. Larger scopes will reveal Jupiter's dark equatorial belts, (one on either side of a brighter equatorial zone), the giant red spot, & other dynamic surface features.
Look for MARS, low in the southwestern sky after sunset. Mars appears ruddy-reddish, glimmering at magnitude 1.4 all month, & is easy to spot in late twilight IF you have a clear & unobstructed horizon. The Red Planet moves eastward quickly, relative to the background stars of Sagittarius, and crosses into Capricornus on Dec. 25th.
Mars maintains roughly the same altitude every night, & sets about 2 hours after the Sun.
The morning sky offers some excellent views of SATURN, VENUS, & MERCURY. The 3 planets appear near each other this month in the predawn sky, & appear notably striking when the Moon passes by on Dec. 11th. In early December, Saturn, Venus & Mercury form a tight group that widens slowly as the month progresses. On Dec. 1st, Saturn rises nearly 3 hours before the Sun. Shining at magnitude 0.7, it's the faintest of the three. Venus rises about 25 minutes later, BLAZING at magnitude minus -3.9. Mercury rises 40 minutes after Venus, glowing respectably at magnitude minus ? 0.3. As Saturn's distance from the Sun increases, it rises earlier each day, & telescopic views of the Ringed Planet become increasingly spectacular. Saturn's rings open wider than they've been since 2006, tilting at 19-degrees to our line of sight from Earth, & affording impressive views through even a small telescope. Mercury reaches greatest elongation on Dec. 4th when it lies 21-degrees west of the Sun, & rises almost two hours before sunrise. The tiny bright innermost planet approaches closest to Venus on Dec 9th, when the duo lie 6-degrees apart. Venus & Mercury spend the remainder of December drawing closer to the Sun, rising later each day, closer to sunrise. By Dec. 31st, Mercury rises less than 30 minutes before sunrise & is lost in the morning twilight, while ever-brilliant Venus rises 90 minutes ahead of our star.
December SKYWATCH UPDATE IN PROGRESS...
For a December Hawaiian sky map, visit Bishop Museum Planetarium
Maintained by Roz Reiner - Kauai, Hawaii
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