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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


The Sky This Week - Thursday December 12 to Thursday December 19

The Full Moon is Tuesday December 17. Mars is  prominent in the early morning. Saturn rises higher in the morning sky. Venus is easily visible late into the night in the western evening sky above the Teapot. Jupiter is visible in the evening sky now, the Moon is close to Jupiter on the 19th. There is a bright Nova near Beta Centauri that is currently visible with the unaided eye. Geminid meteor shower on the  morning of the 14th.

The Full Moon is Tuesday December 17.

Evening sky looking west as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 pm ACDST  on Saturday December 14.  Venus is high in the evening sky above the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius.  The inset shows the telescopic view of Venus. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local times.  Click to embiggen.

Venus continues to fall back  in the evening twilight. However, it can easily be seen shortly after sunset (indeed, with a little effort you can see it before sunset) until late in the evening.

The brightest (spectacularly so) object above the western horizon it is still visible up to three hours or more after sunset (depending on how flat your western horizon is) when the sky is fully dark. Venus is beginning to sink to the horizon, but will be spectacular for many weeks hence.

Venus is in the Constellation of Sagittarius. It is a distinct crescent moon shape in even small telescopes. This week Venus is above the "Teapot" asterism of Sagittarius.

Evening sky on Thursday December 19 looking north as seen from Adelaide at 2s:00 pm ACDST in South Australia. The inset shows the view of Jupiter through a telescope at this time. The Moon is close to Jupiter. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Jupiter is in the constellation Gemini. Mars is is in the constellation of  Virgo. Saturn is in Libra.

Mars rises still higher in the morning twilight, and is visible well before twilight.  

Jupiter is now well above the northern horizon near the bright stars Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini. It is quite easy to see in the morning sky well into the twilight.  Jupiter's Moons are now readily visible in binoculars. Jupiter rises around 10:00 pm local daylight saving time, but is still best for telescopes in the early morning. Jupiter is close to the Moon on the 19th.

Morning sky on Sunday December 15 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 am ACDST in South Australia. Mars is high above the horizon, Saturn is low above the horizon. Both are roughly equidistant from the bright star Spica. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

 Saturn is visible low in the eastern horizon before dawn. It will be difficult to see unless you have a flat, level horizon.

Mercury  is lost in the twilight.

The northern horizon at 3:00 am ACDST as seen from Southern Australia (northern Australia is similar but Gemini and the radiant is higher in the sky) on Saturday December 14. The Geminid radiant is marked with a cross.

The Geminids are a fairly reliable meteor shower and this year moonlight will not significantly  interfere.

Unlike the Leonids, where there is a very narrow peak of high activity, the Geminids have a broad peak and will show good activity well before and after the peak, and on the day before and after.

The radiant doesn't rise until just before midnight (daylight saving time) in most of Australia, so you will still have to disturb your sleep for this one. Australians should see a meteor every two to three minutes under dark skies in the early morning of the 14th, between 1:00 am and 4:00 am local time. You can find predictions for your local site at the meteor flux estimator (choose 4 Geminids and date 13-14 December, don't forget to change the date to 2013).

At 1.00 am in the morning AEDST (midnight, AEST) Castor (alpha Geminorum) is about two handspans above the horizon and 10 handspans to the left of due north. Pollux, the other twin, is less than a handspan to the left again. The radiant is just below Pollux.

As well, Orion and the Hyades will be visible and bright Mars will be nearby. So it will be a quite nice morning for sky watching. Keep an eye out for satellites!

Location of Nova Centaurus 2013 as seen looking north from Adelaide at 3:00 am ACDST local time.The location is marked with a square. Similar views will be seen at the equivalent local time in other Southern Hemisphere locations. Click to embiggen.

UPDATE: Nova Centauri has re-brightened.

A new nova has been reported  near beta Centauri. It is currently bright enough (magnitude 4.5-5 back up to 3.6-3.7) to be seen faintly with the unaided eye, and very easily in binoculars. Unfortunately, you have to wait until early morning for the nova to be heigh enough for a good look.

More detailed spotters charts and instructions are here.

There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. Especially with Venus so prominent in the sky.  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 pmAEDST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.


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