What’s up in Oak Bay’s Night Sky for December

As it travels closer to Earth, Mars will be a highlight in the skies during 2016

What’s up for December 2015?  View Mars right now, and prepare for 2016, the best Mars viewing year since 2005.

But first, around midnight, look for Jupiter shining in the Eastern sky over Mount Baker. You can see Jupiter’s dark cloud bands through your telescope.

This month, Mars rises earlier – by about 2 a.m. local time. As we know, like all planets, it rises in the east over Mount Baker. Its reddish colour is unmistakable, even without a telescope. Catch a glimpse of both Venus and Mars over Everett just before sunrise. Saturn will also be rising just a little later and also rising over Mount Baker. With your telescope you’ll be able to clearly see its famous rings.

Mid-month, Dec. 13 and 14, check out the Geminid meteor shower to be seen in the South Eastern sky towards Seattle. You could see as many as 60 meteors per hour.

Back to Mars: You won’t see many features this month, because Mars is only five arc-seconds in diameter.

An arc-second is about the width of a dime seen from 2.5 miles away, or almost 10 times smaller than nearby Jupiter appears, and 350 times smaller than the moon appears to us on Earth.

You should be able to see Mars’ north polar region this month, because its north pole is currently tilted towards Earth. You’ll be amazed at the changes you’ll see during 2016.

January through December 2016 are all prime Mars observing months.

Between January and May next year, Mars triples in apparent diameter as its orbit around the sun brings it closer to Earth. You’ll even be able to see the areas on Mars where NASA’s Mars landers such as Curiosity, are located.

By October, Mars shrinks in apparent size to less than half its May diameter as it speeds away from Earth. Mars shrinks in size even further from October through December, returning to the same size we will see in January 2016 by year’s end.

So, put Mars viewing on your calendar for 2016. You won’t see Mars this size again until 2018, when Mars will put on an even better show.

You might want to try sketching the features you see on the Red Planet just as early astronomers did. It’s easy to see enough detail even in the smallest of telescopes, and it will be a fun and inexpensive souvenir.

Learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars missions at Mars.Nasa.gov.

Learn about all of NASA’s historic and current lunar missions, and all of NASA’s missions, at www.nasa.gov.

Dark Skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

 

By Bill Smith and the RASCals of Cattle Point, volunteers at Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park.

Summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up In December 2015” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.