December skies offer many gifts for stargazers across Arizona
With December right around the corner, we look to the holiday skies for some very special treasures for you and yours!
Our December skies in Arizona will be rich in so many ways – you can look forward to some amazing sights.
We begin with the moon, nearest of the celestial objects from Earth.
The moon begins December as a thin crescent, low in the southwestern sky, just after sunset. The moon was very close to the two bright planets, Venus and Jupiter, as the month ended in November.
The moon will reach first quarter Dec. 5, providing a great time to get out the telescope and view the great shadow and light line known as the terminator.
Simply the best definition in details on the moon, as the sun is rising along that line.
The moon moves on to its gibbous phase and then rapidly moves on to the full cold moon, on the night of Dec. 11.
The moon is full at 10:12 p.m. Arizona time. This full moon is also known as the long night moon, with the arrival of the winter solstice Dec. 21 at 9:19 p.m. Arizona time.
On that date, we will experience only nine hours and 56 minutes of daylight, thus one of the shortest of days.
The location of the sun on the solstice day is interesting. This is the direction of the center of our Milky Way galaxy, some 27,000 light years behind the sun.
Last quarter moon is Dec. 18; the moon then slowly moves on to a waning crescent visible low in the predawn sky.
New moon will occur Dec. 26, providing those with clear skies to locate many of the faint objects that we discuss in this column on a regular basis.
One major meteor shower will occur during December – the annual Geminid shower, which should peak on the night of Dec. 13, into the next morning. Look to the northeastern sky after 10 p.m. on Friday the 13th up until sunrise.
The Geminids produce many bright and slow moving fireballs, but the bright light of the moon will reduce the numbers seen by a large percentage.
Amazing planets adorn our December skies, as we get to view the close conjunction of both Venus and Jupiter in the southwestern sky at sunset.
If you are looking for a “star” that mimics the Star of Bethlehem, the light of the planet Venus may be just what you are looking for!
Venus can be very bright and at time of total darkness, the planet can cast a shadow on a field of snow.
Venus can get the closest of all planets to Earth, coming within some 25 million miles of us.
The moon and the planet Saturn will be in a close conjunction on the night of Dec. 10. They appear nearly 2 degrees apart.
Jupiter has been in our sky since early March and will move into solar conjunction Dec. 27.
For any observers that will be traveling over the holidays and you might be heading to southern India or the large populated city of Singapore, you might like to visit this link.
Above all, all the best for a great holiday season. A Merry Christmas and a great 2020!
To print your own monthly star chart, click here.
To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.
Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday morning at 3 a.m.