What’s in December? Afternoon highlights, a chance to catch a comet, and the annual Geminid meteor.
December 6-10, look west after sunset to visit the moon
“>Jupiter Otherwise. The full crescent moon as it appears higher in the sky every night of the week.
Enjoy the dazzling sight of Venus as the “night star” while it lasts. Our cloud-covered neighboring planet will soon sink from the horizon during that month, disappearing for most of us by the New Year. It will reappear in late January as the morning planet before sunrise, and will not return in the evening sky until December next year.
Then in December, there’s a newly discovered comet on its way to the inner solar system that might be worth a try. Known as Comet Leonard, it will be at its closest point to Earth on December 12, just two weeks before it reaches its closest distance from the Sun.
Today, comets are notoriously unpredictable in terms of brightness and visibility. Comet Leonard is expected to peak at a brightness that will likely require a telescope to observe it. There’s a chance it might be bright enough to see with the naked eye, but then again, with comets, you never know.
In the first two weeks of December, Comet Leonard can be found in the east before sunrise, passing between Arcturus and the handle of the Big Dipper. It is closer to the horizon than it is to Earth, which means it will likely be much brighter but harder to observe. It then turns into a night object after about December 14, shortly after sunset – as it begins its distance from the sun again, and its brightness gradually fades.
Finally, Geminid.meteor This is the peak of the December sky every year. The peak of this year’s meteor shower occurs at night on December 13-14. Regardless of the weather, the phase of the moon is usually a major factor in whether a meteor shower will be well-observed in a given year. This year, the moon will be about 80% full at Geminids altitude, which isn’t ideal. However, this bright moon will appear somewhere around 2 a.m. wherever you are, leaving a few hours to see the meteors before dawn.
Meteors appear to be emanating from the constellation Gemini, which you’ll find high in the west. Now while most annual meteor showers are caused by Earth traveling through a trail of dust-sized particles from comet debris, the Geminids are one of the few meteor showers caused by debris from an asteroid crossing Earth’s orbit—in this case, called Phaethon. .
“> NASA Scientists have shared the finding that the differences between asteroids and comets may be less clear-cut than we realise, with the volatile sodium in Phaethon playing the same role as evaporating ice on comets.
And whether you look at Comet Leonard, or the meteorite from the asteroid Phaethon, both are reminders of the deep connections between Earth and the rest of the solar system that we discover when we look outside and explore.