Dark Skies December Update
The sky chart shows the stars for 8pm in mid December. We are still short of planets in the evening skies, it will be another couple of months before they start to make an appearance. So it is to the morning skies we must look for targets.
Venus is still the brightest object in the morning sky, but is slowly dropping down to the eastern horizon, steadily closing in on the sun. It will still be visible for a couple of months though, blazing away in the pre-dawn hours. Jupiter and Mars are both easy objects in the morning skies. Mars is the fainter of the pair but is a slowly brightening, ruddy object, higher than Venus and more to the south. Jupiter on the other hand is brighter, showing an obvious disc in binoculars or telescopes, along with up to four of its brightest satellites.
Around the 13/14th of December is the max of the Geminid meteor shower. This is another of the more reliable showers in the meteor calendar and can often produce around 100 meteors per hour at maximum. Best observed from 10pm onwards, the meteors will appear from the Eastern skies at an altitude of around 45 degrees.
The main object of interest in December is going to be a comet. Before you get too excited by this prospect, be warned that comets are notoriously fickle in nature, and predicting their exact brightness is difficult at best! At the moment, comet Catalina looks likely to be a naked eye object, low in the morning skies of early December. It will be much easier to see with a pair of binoculars, and fingers crossed, should display a short tail. The sky chart diagram below shows a close up of the area of sky to the east of Venus where the comet should be visible. Please take great care when scanning the sky for the comet and be very aware of the rising sun. If there is the slightest chance of the sun being in the sky, put the binoculars away. Never look at the sun without specialist solar filters on your optics.
Anyhow, good luck and may I wish you all the best for the coming festive season and for the New Year,
Les Fry - Elan Valley Astro Ranger.