Podcaster: Rob Webb
Title: Observing With Webb in December 2019
Organization: Physics teacher at Pequea Valley High School
Description: December, though probably very cold, will bring us some close encounters, a meteor showers, all 5 naked-eye planets, and some very long nights.
Bio: Rob Webb is a physics, astronomy, and sustainability teacher at Pequea Valley High School in Pennsylvania. His passions include teaching, astronomy, astrophotography, planetariums, running, reading, and golf. A proud graduate of Dickinson College in 2005, he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Penn State University after conducting research in regards to the current state of planetariums in Pennsylvania. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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December, though probably very cold, will bring us some close encounters, a meteor showers, all 5 naked-eye planets, and some very long nights.
First Quarter Moon – 4th (Visible until midnight)
Full Moon – 12th (Visible all night)
Last Quarter Moon – 18th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
New Moon – 25th (darkest skies)
1st – AM Close Encounter – Mercury, Mars – If you’re up around 6:30am, today is the best day to look SE to find Mercury and Mars, since Mercury is diving back toward the Sun from our perspective each day. Mercury will be only 10˚ above the horizon, with Mars 20˚ above, up and to the right of Mercury.
1st – PM Close Encounter – Moon, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn – Make sure you watch the western sky after sunset this day, as the Moon will be up and to the left of a brilliant set of the three brightest planets. Venus will be brightest and in the middle between Jupiter and Saturn, with Jupiter lower and to the right, Saturn higher and to the left. If you miss it on the 1st, don’t worry! The lineup will still be there and so will the Moon, but a bit further away from the planets.
10th – Conjunction – Venus, Saturn – Similar to Venus passing Jupiter last month, Venus will get to within 2˚ of Saturn on the 10th. Just get out around sunset, and watch the SW sky for VERY bright Venus, with Saturn about 2 pinky-widths up and a little to the right. This isn’t only cool on the 10th, though, since they are still near other on the nights leading up to and following the 10th. So check it out anytime that week.
13th, 14th – Geminid Meteor Shower – Not a good year for seeing a lot of Geminids, given the moon will be waning gibbous, but don’t give up! You might not see the expected 100 meteors per hour, but if you gaze the opposite direction of the Moon, and go out early after sunset, your chances of catching some great ones will be increased. You should still get about 20 per hour.
Some advice for watching:
Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty
Look at the whole sky, but note Gemini is where the radiant is – where the meteors will appear to be coming from. Gemini will be in the East after sunset, South after midnight, West in the morning.
Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear
Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something.
Or find out if your local astronomy club or museum is holding a viewing party.
21st – Winter Solstice – The longest night and shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. More info here: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html
27th – 29th – Close Encounter – Moon, Saturn, Venus – You’ll need some pretty clear skies and a good view of the SW horizon for this one. Get out after sunset (yet again), look SW, and find very bright Venus. On the 27th, start at Venus, look down and to the right about a fist-width or more (13˚), VERY low on the horizon, and you should be able to see a VERY thin crescent Moon with a dim-relative-to-the-sky Saturn just 5˚ (three finger-widths) to the right and a little bit lower. If you don’t have good luck on the 27th, the 28th will be much easier, since the Moon will be directly below Venus by only about 3˚. Then, on the 29th, The Moon will move to be about 10˚ up and to the left of Venus.
- Around Sunset – Jupiter (1wk only), Saturn, Venus (SW)
- Throughout the night – None
- Morning – Mercury (SE 1 wk only), Mars (SE)
- MIGHT catch it if you get out around 6:30am and look ESE, but only during the first week of December. Although, if you wait until the last 4 days of January, look WSW after sunset less than 10˚ above the horizon.
- Venus is BACK and bright! Over these two months, it will rise from just about 10˚ above the SW horizon to about 30˚. Find a great view of the SW horizon with nothing in the way and watch the sunset. Venus will be the brightest light off in that direction.
- Get out after 5am, but before sunrise, and look SE to find the ruddy red point of light that is Mars. In January, it’ll move into Scorpio, near the red star Antares, whose name means simulating Mars.
- Only really visible for the first couple of days of December, and then the last two weeks of January, but in opposite sides of the sky and times of the day. The first week of December, you’ll have to get out for sunset and watch VERY low on the horizon for the bright, but dimmer than Venus, point of light that is Jupiter.
- Saturn starts out December up and to the left of Venus and Jupiter in the sunset sky, gets lower in the sky each night, passes Venus on the 10th, and is no longer visible by the end of December
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.
Cassiopeia, Andromeda, & Perseus -Look pretty much straight up you’ll be able to see Andromeda curving off of one corner of Pegasus. If your skies are decently dark, you might catch the faint fuzz that is the Andromeda Galaxy. Cassiopeia will be relatively easy to find as the “W” in the sky, whose right angle points right to Andromeda and her galaxy. Perseus is the other cornucopia-shaped constellation, but opposite of Andromeda, with its curves emptying out toward the Pleiades
Taurus & the Pleiades – Look almost straight up, but down toward the South a little bit and you’ll find the lovely cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, Subaru, or the mini-mini-dipper. You can easily see 5 or 6 of them with the unaided eye, and perhaps a 7th, depending on light pollution and your eyes. To the left about 5˚ will be the V constellation of Taurus the bull, with bright red Aldebaran as its brightest, and one eye of the bull. Oh, and if you follow a line connecting these two to the left about 10˚, you’ll find Orion.
Leo – Look South, halfway up the sky, to find the backward question mark and right triangle that is Leo the Lion.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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