What’s Up: December 2017 includes the best meteor shower

Summary by Bill Smith is from the transcript of “What’s Up in December 2017”

What’s Up for December 2017? The best meteor shower of the year and the brightest stars in familiar constellations.

Don’t forget to take your grandchildren to the top of Mount Tolmie around 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Pyjamas are allowed as long as you stay in the car.

Santa Claus or The International Space Station (ISS) or both should be seen if you are lucky.

The Geminds peak on the morning of Dec. 14, and are active from Dec. 4 through 17. The peak lasts for a full 24 hours, meaning more worldwide meteor watchers will get to see this spectacle. If you can see Orion and Gemini in the sky you’ll see some Geminids. Expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour between midnight and 4 a.m. but only from a dark sky. You’ll see fewer after moonrise at 3:30 a.m. local time.

Take a moment to enjoy the circle of constellations and their brightest stars around Gemini this month. Find yellow Capella in the constellation Auriga. You should be facing South towards the Olympic Mountains and Port Angeles.

Going clockwise at 3 o’clock find Taurus and bright reddish Aldebaran, plus the Pleiades.

At five o’clock, familiar Orion, with red Betelgeuse, blue-white Rigel, and the three famous belt stars in-between the two.

Next comes Leo, and its white lionhearted star, Regulus at 10 o’clock.

There’s a second meteor shower in December, the Ursids, radiating from Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper, in the North over Mount Douglas. If Dec. 22 and the morning of Dec. 23 are clear where you are, have a look at the Little Dipper’s bowl, and you might see about 10 meteors per hour.

The Ursid meteor shower. The radiant point is just below Polaris the North Star high above the University of Victoria.

The late evenings of Dec. 22 and 23 are when the Ursid meteor shower will be at its best, though the peak rate of 10 to 15 meteors per hour is not that great. Pleasingly, the moon soon after new, will not affect our view during much of the night. The radiant lies close to the star Kochab in Ursa Minor (hence their name), so look northwards at a high elevation. Occasionally, there can be a far higher rate so it’s worth having a look should it be clear.

There are so many sights to see in the sky. Use the Night Sky Network, the Solar System Ambassadors, and the Royal Astronomy Club of Canada (Victoria) to look up local astronomy clubs, and join them for stargazing events in town, and under dark skies.

December 2nd before dawn looking towards Seattle: Mars, Jupiter and Venus climb the Salish Walk of the Planet’s with Mars rising first, then Jupiter and then Venus. The sun comes quickly behind.

As we all know, the planets, just like the sun, rise in the east over Mount Baker, and set in the west over Metchosin and the Sooke Hills. They walk across the sky in a huge arc which ends in the west over Sooke Hills.

To spot Venus, a very low horizon will be needed so waterfront owners on Oak Bay will be well positioned facing east across the Salish Sea. Locals can also go to Cattle Point Star Park or even up Mount Tolmie. Great views of the Salish Sea horizon from both locations.

Use binoculars, but please do not use them after the sun has risen. The chart has reduced the sky brightness to make Venus visible.

Find out about NASA missions at NASA.gov.

Dark Skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

Summary by Bill Smith is from the transcript of “What’s Up in December 2017” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Dark Sky Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.

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