Have you noticed it yet? That particular familiar smell in the air that tells you it’s going to be a frosty evening. Festive lights are starting to appear on houses and trees, and the queues of cars trying to get in and out of shopping centres gets longer day by day.
It can only mean the countdown to the holiday season is upon us, but in your rush to buy presents and make merry with family and friends, don’t forget that the coolest nights can provide you with the best seeing conditions for a little tour of the stars.
To help fire the enthusiasm we’ve taken it upon ourselves to list a few events of astronomical interest for the month of December, so wrap yourselves up extra warm, grab a flask of something hot and get out under the stars.
Happy Holidays from all at Sky-Watching!
Tuesday 2nd December - On this day in 1993 space shuttle Endeavour launched to provide the first in-orbit service of the Hubble Space Telescope
Look to the south about 22:30 UTC
Monday 8th December - Mercury is in Superior Conjunction today, so is currently too close to the Sun for observation
Friday 12th December – Today the Moon is at Apogee at a distance of 404,585 km (251,398 miles), the furthest point out in its orbit around the Earth this month
Saturday 13th December - The annual Geminid meteor shower heads towards peak this evening (and into the morning of 14th December). With the Moon not rising until gone 23:00 UTC it might be an opportunity to get youngsters out meteor hunting!
The guide shows you the area of the night sky the meteors will appear to be streaking away from, but they could appear all over the sky, so just get comfy looking up
Meteor intensity should increase towards dawn, with the peak actually occurring around midday on Sunday
Sunday 14th December - This afternoon our Moon will be seen at Last Quarter phase
Tuesday 16th December - To help identify the constellations you can see throughout the month, below we’ve provided guide images for both southern and northern skies in December (shown as seen at 00:00 UTC on 16th December)
Sunday 21st December - Today is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere
And Apollo 8 launched on this day in 1968
Monday 22nd December - The New Moon rises with (and sets just after) the Sun today, so now is a good time to observe deep sky objects when the skies are unaffected by moonlight
Wednesday 24th December - Today the Moon is at Perigee (the closest point of its orbit to the Earth) at a distance of 364,790 km (226,670 miles)
And in 1968 Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon
Saturday 27th December - The “father of modern astronomy” Johannes Kepler was born on this day in 1571
Sunday 28th December - This evening the Moon can be seen at First Quarter phase
As usual, if you take any photos throughout December you’d like to show us, please tweet them to us using the link below! We’d love to see your efforts and we’ll re-tweet them to your fellow sky-watchers!
Planets visible this month:
Remember, it can take your eyes up to 20 minutes to become properly dark adapted, and anything up to an hour for a telescope to reach ambient temperature outside (to ensure the best image), so give yourself plenty of time to get set up!
To make it easier to find this list of astronomical happenings you can also locate it in the “Monthly Guide” section in the menu bar to the right. Handy! :)
Guide images created with StellariumFollow @sky_watching