National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Banner
Solar System Exploration
News & Events
December Skies
December Skies
1 Dec 2003
(Source: Indiana University)

Date: Mon, 1 Dec 2003 19:20:47 -0500
From: "Kibbey, Hal S" hkibbey@indiana.edu
Subject: "Star Trak" for December
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Normally the Geminid meteor shower is the best of the year. Fewer people are willing to brave the cold of a December night to see it, however, so it is less well known than the Perseid shower of August, when only mosquitoes distract a viewer from enjoying the spectacle.

The Geminid shower will peak on the night of Dec. 13-14, when the third-quarter moon will obscure the fainter streaks crossing the sky. If clouds don't spoil the show, observers can expect to see 60-70 meteors per hour at the peak.

The meteors or "shooting stars" will seem to be coming from a point called the radiant near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins, which gives the shower its name. This year the bright yellow planet Saturn will serve as an additional marker for the radiant, which will be well above the eastern horizon a few hours after sundown and will remain high in the sky for the rest of the night. Try facing southeast, though meteors will be visible in all parts of the sky. For details about the Geminid shower, see http://comets.amsmeteors.org/meteors/showers/geminids.html.

More information about meteor showers is available from the American Meteor Society at http://www.amsmeteors.org/showers.html.

Auroras
The group of sunspots that released several giant bursts of particles toward Earth in October and November, causing auroras that were seen unusually far south in the Northern Hemisphere, has rotated around the Sun and come back into view. It is still spewing masses of material into space, and we may be in for more solar storm activity in December.

Locations of current auroral activity can be seen at http://www.sec.noaa.gov/pmap/. Click on "Aurora Viewing" for tips on when an aurora may be visible in your area. Information about solar and other space "weather" is available at http://www.spacew.com/. Aurora sightings are reported at http://www.spacew.com/www/aurora.html.

To watch for auroras when they are most likely to happen, sign up for solar activity alerts by e-mail at http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/proamcollab/astroalert/default.asp.

Planets
Brilliant yellow Saturn will appear low in the eastern sky soon after sunset, dominating the constellation Gemini the Twins. The familiar constellation Orion the Hunter will be on Saturn's right (south) at this time. Saturn is brighter than it has been for almost three decades, and it will reach opposition (be opposite the sun in our sky) on the night of Dec. 31. It will remain about as bright for several weeks, offering those with telescopes their best opportunity to view the planet's famous rings, which are tilted toward Earth almost the maximum amount. Saturn will be visible all night, but the best views will be when it is high in the southern sky around midnight.

Even brighter Jupiter will rise in the east near midnight at the beginning of the month and more than an hour earlier by month's end. Jupiter will be near the constellation Leo the Lion, easily outshining its bright white star Regulus.

Mars has faded from its summer brilliance as it falls farther behind Earth in its slower orbit. The red planet will still be bright and easy to find in the south this month as the evening sky darkens.

Venus will shine brightly low in the southwest at dusk, and it will get higher and even brighter as December moves on, resuming its familiar role as the beautiful "evening star." By month's end it will set two and half hours after the sun.

Mercury will be visible to the lower right (west) of Venus for the first two weeks of the month, but after that it will fade and drop rapidly into the solar glare.

Solstice
The sun will reach its southernmost point in the sky, called the December solstice, on Dec. 22 at 2:04 a.m. EST (7:04 Universal Time). This will mark the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months, the days will be getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Moon phases
The moon will be full on Dec. 8, at third quarter on Dec. 16, new on Dec. 23 and at first quarter on Dec. 30.

News Archive Search  Go!
Show  results per page
 
 
Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writer: Autumn Burdick
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> USA.gov
> ExpectMore.gov
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 5 Dec 2003