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Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The Sky This Week - Thursday December 13 to Thursday December 20

The New Moon is Thursday December 13, First Quarter Moon is Thursday December 20. Mars is in Sagittarius and is visited by the crescent Moon on the 15th. Jupiter is prominent in the late evening sky. In the morning skies Venus is low on the horizon. Saturn is visible low in the morning sky not far from Venus. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 14th.

Morning sky on Sunday December 16 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 5:15 am local daylight saving time in South Australia. Saturn and Venus are drawing apart, Mercury is just on the horizon. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

The New Moon is Thursday December 13, First Quarter Moon is Thursday December 20.

Bright white Venus is now quite low above the eastern horizon,  and hard to see from cluttered horizons. Venus looks like a waxing Moon when seen through even a small telescope. Venus is in the constellation of Virgo.

Saturn is now visible above the eastern horizon before dawn. Saturn climbs higher in the morning sky, becoming easier to see in the twilight,  and moves away from Venus during the week.

Mercury  is low in the morning sky, but is difficult to see in the twilight below Venus. You will need a flat, obscured horizon (like the ocean) to see it.

Evening sky looking West as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 pm local daylight time on Saturday December 15. The thin crescent Moon is close to Mars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time.  Click to embiggen.

Mars is in the constellation  Sagittarius. Mars is now the brightest object in the western sky as the red star Antares, is lost in the twilight. Mars's distinctive red colour makes it relatively easy to spot.

Mars will be close to the thin crescent Moon on the 15th.

Mars sets shortly after 10:30 pm local daylight saving time.

Mars was at opposition on March 4, when it was biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. Sadly, this is a poor opposition and Mars will be fairly small in modest telescopes.

Jupiter is visible all night long now. Despite opposition having just passed on the 3rd Jupiter is prominent in the north-eastern early evening sky, being quite visible in the twilight. Jupiter is below the Hyades, near the red star Aldebaran. Jupiter moves slowly towards Aldebaran during the week, making it look as if the Bull has two eyes.

Jupiter, Aldebaran and the white star Rigel in Orion form a long line in the sky. With the Pleiades cluster and the constellation of Orion close by, this is a beautiful sight. 

Jupiter is easily seen in the late evening sky, rising around 7:00 pm local daylight saving time and is highest in the north by midnight. Now is a perfect time to observe Jupiter with a telescope of any size in the evening. Jupiters' Moons are easily seen in binoculars, and can be followed from night to night changing position.

The radiant of the Geminid meteor shower above the northern horizon as seen from Adelaide on the morning of December 14 at 3:00 pm ACDST, similar views will be seen from other sites at equivalent local times. The radiant is marked with a cross (click to embiggen).

The Geminid Meteor shower is at its peak from the point of view of Australian's on the mornings of Friday 14 December (13 December UT) and Saturday 15 December. The best time to observe is between 1 and 4 am (daylight saving time, 12-3 am non-daylight saving time), with the highest rates between 2-3 am daylight saving time.

With the Moon out of the picture in Australia we should see roughly a meteor every 2 minutes. You can see more details about observing the shower here.

You can check predictions for you local site with the NASA meteor flux estimator (scroll down to 4 Geminids in the SHOWER box, make sure you have your location and date correct as well).

The asteroid Ceres is at opposition on the 18th, at magnitude 6.7 is is easily visible in binoculars.

There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEDST, Western sky at 10 pm AEDST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.


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