Night sky guide for December 2015

Night sky guide for December 2015

December 2015 will feature three meteor showers: the Geminids, the Puppid-Velids and the Ursids. The Geminid meteor shower is popularly known as the "king of meteor showers". This year, it is expected to produce up to 120 meteors per hour at its peak, which will occur on December 13/14. The crescent moon during this period will make for a fantastic show.

The Puppy-Velids shower will peak on December 9 and will produce a maximum of 15 meteors per hour at its peak. The 28 day old moon during this period will enable a good viewing experience. The Ursids, on the other hand,will peak on December 21/22 and are expected to produce only between 5-10 meteors per hours. The waxing gibbous moon will probably block out most of the fainter meteors further spoiling the show.

The new moon is always the best time to observe faint objects in the sky. This month it falls on December 11.

This month's full moon, known as  the Full Cold Moon or the Full Long Nights Moon falls on December 25. 

  • December 4 - Conjunction between Moon and Jupiter - 05:19 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 1°42' of each other on December 4, 2015. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.6, and Jupiter at mag -2.0, both in the constellation Leo. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
  • December 6 - Conjunction between Moon and Mars - 02:39 UTC. At the moment of closest approach on December 6,2015, the Moon will be at mag -11.1, and Mars at mag 1.1, both in the constellation Virgo. During this period, the conjunction will be close enough to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible to the naked eye or a through pair of binoculars.
  • December 7 - C/2014 S2 (PANSTARRS) reaches its brightest. Comet C/2014 S2 (PANSTARRS) is forecast to reach its brightest, on December 7, 2015 at around mag 9.2. It will lie at a distance of 2.10 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 1.92 AU from the Earth.
  • December 7 - Conjunction between the Moon and Venus - 17:20 UTC. The Moon and Venus will make a close approach, passing within 0°38' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -10.4, and Venus at mag -4.7, both in the constellation Virgo. The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or a through pair of binoculars.
  • December 9 - Puppid-Velid meteor shower peak. The Puppid-Velid meteor shower runs each year between November 17 to January. This year the shower will peak on the night of December 9, 2015 with a maximum of 15 meteors per hour. The 28 day old moon during this period will not interfere with the viewing experience.
  • December 11 - New Moon - 10:31 UTC. As on every New Moon day, the Moon will pass close to the Sun and will not be visible on December 11, 2015. This time is ideal for viewing faint objects like galaxies and star clusters in the night sky as there is no moonlight to interfere.
  • December 11 - 204P/Linear-Neat at perihelion. Comet 204P/LINEAR-NEAT will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 1.93 AU.
  • December 11 - LMC is well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the Milky Way's dwarf companion, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), in Dorado, will be well placed for observation on December 11, 2015. At a declination of -69°45', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 0°N. At magnitude 0.9, LMC is visible to the naked eye, but best viewed through a pair of binoculars.
  • December 13/14 - Geminid meteor shower peak. The Geminids are one of the most popular meteor showers in the night sky. They run each year from December 7 to December 17 and produce up to 120 meteors per hour. This year, the shower is expected to peak between nighttime on December 13, 2015 and early morning December 14, 2015. The Geminid meteor shower is caused by the object 3200 Phaethon which is thought to be an asteroid with a "rock comet" orbit. 
  • December 15 - NGC 1981 is well placed for observation. Reaching its highest point in the sky around midnight local time, The open star cluster NGC 1981 in Orion's sword will be well placed for observation on December 15, 2015. At a declination of -04°25', it is visible across much of the world; it can be seen at latitudes between 65°N and 74°S. At magnitude 4.6, NGC1981 is too faint to be seen with the naked eye from any but the very darkest sites, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.
  • December 19 - Conjunction between Moon and Uranus - 01:27 UTC. The Moon and Uranus will make a close approach, passing within 1°06' of each other on December 19, 2015. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.3, and Uranus at mag 5.8, both in the constellation PiscesThe pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
  • December 21/22 - Ursid meteor shower peak. The Ursid meteor shower lasts annually between December 17 to December 25 producing a maximum of 10 meteors per hour on its peak which occurs between the night of December 21, 2015 and early morning December 22, 2015. The Moon will be 11 days old during this period and will significantly affect viewability.
  • December 22 - December Solstice - 04:42 UTC. The December Solstice occurs when the Sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the Sun. ​It is called Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, where it is the shortest day of the year. In the southern hemisphere, it is the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year.
  • December 25 - Asteroid 27 Euterpe at opposition - 09:53 UTC. ​Regardless of your location on the Earth, 27 Euterpe will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on December 25, 2015. Asteroid 27 Euterpe will also make its perigree at the same time passing within 0.958 AU of the Earth, reaching a peak brightness of magnitude 8.3. Nonetheless, even at its brightest, 27 Euterpe is a faint object beyond the reach of the naked eye or binoculars; a telescope of moderate aperture and a good star chart are needed. 
  • December 25 - Full Moon - 11:13 UTC. As on every Full Moon day, the Moon will be lying almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky at a distance of 376 000 km (233 635 miles) from the Earth. Full Moon nights are very bright and not conducive for observation of faint sky objects in the night sky. 
  • December 27 - NGC 2232 is well placed for observation. The open star cluster NGC 2232 in Monoceros will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on December 27, 2015. At a declination of -04°45', it is visible across much of the world; it can be seen at latitudes between 65°N and 74°S. At magnitude 3.9, NGC2232 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.
  • December 29 - Mercury at greatest elongation - 05:59 UTC. Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -2.5 on December 29, 2015. 
  • December 29 - NGC 2244 is well placed for observation. The open star cluster NGC 2244, in the rosette nebula in Monoceros, will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on December 29, 2015. At a declination of +04°52', it is visible across much of the world; it can be seen at latitudes between 74°N and 65°S. At magnitude 4.8, NGC2244 is too faint to be seen with the naked eye from any but the very darkest sites, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.
  • December 31 - Conjunction between the Moon and Jupiter - 17:05 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 1°23' of each other on December 31, 2015. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.1, and Jupiter at mag -2.2, both in the constellation Leo.The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

Tonight's Sky: December 2015. Video credit: Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: InTheSky (Dominic Ford)SeaSky

​Featured image credit: Solar System Scope / TW

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