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Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The Sky This Week - Thursday December 16 to Thursday December 23

The Full Moon is Tuesday December 21. There is a Lunar Eclipse which will be best seen from North-eastern Australia on the 21st. Earth is at solstice on the 22nd. Jupiter is easily seen in the evening sky. Venus visible together with Saturn and the bright star Spica in the morning sky.

Lunar Eclipse, 8:30 pm

Eastern horizon as seen from Sydney at 8:30 pm AEDST on December 21. The Moon has risen in total eclipse, and as the twilight sky darkens, the shadow slips off the Moon.

On the evening of Tuesday, December 21, there will be a total eclipse of the Moon.

Unfortunately, it will only be seen in North-Eastern Australia, with Queensland getting the best view, followed by New South Wales. For both these sites, the Moon rises around the end of totality, with deeper immersion for Queensland, the better the farther north you are.

What you will see will be difficult to describe, as the eclipsed Moon will be washed out by the twilight. However, the Moon should appear dimmer than normal, and as it rises there should be a gradual brightening of the southern part of the Moon, more easily seen as the sky darkens.

By the time the sky is fully dark, the Earth's shadow will have slipped off the Moon (actually, the darker inner shadow, the Moon will still be in the outer shadow, but it will not be visible under these conditions). In Melbourne and Adelaide, the Moon rises with the eclipse almost over, and only the thinnest sliver of the Moon in Earths shadow. Northern Territory and WA see nothing.

See here for a map and contact timings in UT.

Morning sky looking east as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 am daylight saving time on Saturday December 18 showing Saturn, Venus and the bright star Spica. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time. Click to embiggen.

Bright white Venus continues to rise above the eastern morning horizon and is now readily seen in the early morning sky. Venus, Saturn and the bright star Spica form a narrow triangle in the morning sky. Venus's crescent shape is easily seen in small telescopes. Venus will progressively decrease in size and wax towards "First quarter" over the coming weeks.

Saturn, Spica and Venus make an attractive morning sight. Saturn is almost high enough for telescopic observation.

Evening sky looking west showing Jupiter and Uranus at 10:00 pm local daylight saving time on Saturday December 18. Click to embiggen.

Mercury and Mars are now lost to sight in the twilight glow.

Jupiter can be readily seen from twilight until it sets in the early morning. Jupiter now spends most of the evening above the north-western horizon.

Jupiter is excellent in binoculars and small telescopes.

Jupiter and Uranus come even closer together, and are readily seen together in binoculars. Uranus is the second brightest object within a binocular field north of Jupiter (now that 20 Piscium has entered the binocular field), and is in fact bright enough to be (just) seen with the unaided eye under dark sky conditions. A binocular spotters map is here.

Jupiter's Moons are always interesting, in binoculars or telescopes of any size. There are lots of opportunities to see cool Jupiter Moon events (scroll down until you hit Jupiter).

The variable star Mira is visible to the unaided eye but fading, by the end of the week the Moonlight will be too strong to see Mira.

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 ADST, Western sky at 10 pm ADST. 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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