The night sky in December

More meteor showers and plenty of planets will be visible in December

If the weather marred your meteor watching in November, don’t worry. The December Geminids and Ursids offer up two more chances to see meteor showers this year. The constellation Gemini, namesake of the Geminids and location of the meteor shower radiant, is easy to spot above Orion, high in the southern sky looking towards Port Angeles. Look for the most Geminids – even before midnight – on the peak nights of Dec. 13-14 and 14-15.

A week later, under darker new moon conditions, look for the Ursids radiating from the bowl of Ursa Minor, or the Little Dipper. The best time to view this shower is from after midnight until dawn on Dec. 22 and 23.

Start the month with a pretty view of the moon near the Pleiades star cluster on Dec. 5. Look east towards Mount Baker a few hours after sunset. You can’t miss the two objects. Then, set your alarm clock for an hour before sunrise and catch Jupiter above the moon on Dec. 11 through 13 in the southwest sky out past Metchosin. Jupiter rises in the Eastern sky, towards Mount Baker, by about 10 p.m. and it’s visible until dawn.

From Dec. 18 to 20, look southeast towards Seattle a little closer to sunrise to catch the slender crescent moon near Saturn.

Three more planets grace the evening sky. Venus is below the moon, near the horizon, on Dec. 23. Mars is below the moon on Dec. 25. And Mercury peeks over the horizon on New Year’s Eve.

Uranus and Neptune are among the stars of the constellations Aquarius and Pisces in the southern sky over the Olympic Mountains. You’ll need a telescope to spot Neptune, but you just might find blue-green Uranus through binoculars as soon as it’s dark after sunset.

Finally, there are two comets to try for through telescopes. Comet Siding Spring in Ophiucus and Comet PanSTARRS in Sculptor. Try looking in the early evening. Both are low on the western horizon past Metchosin.

You can learn more about all the solar system bodies at solarsystem.nasa.gov. And you can learn about all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov.

You can learn much more about  our night sky and see our new “real time” Cattle Point Night Sky map at: www.cattlepointstarpark.org.

Dark skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

Summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up In December 2014” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.

 

Bill Smith is a volunteer at Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park.