D E C E M B E R S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
That magnificent group of constellationsTaurus, Orion, Gemini, and Auriganow frame the night. I am struck by seeing them rising in the east in the early evening, and setting in the west in the morning before the dawn. They bid me goodnight, and 10 hours later, they help me greet the new day. These long nights are great for star-gazing.
Those constellations are gorgeous enough in themselves, but to add spice we can see bright yellow Saturn, looking protected in the midst of this splendor. Saturn sits between Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins, and Betelgeuse, the big red star in Orion. Saturn wont move much this month because it is traveling retrograde (towards Betelgeuse).
And orange Mars, with us in the southwest sky for months, is still high and bright in the evenings. Mars continues to separate from earth, but still appears amazingly bright. It sets after midnight.
Jupiter is playing reverse mirror to Mars. It rises in the east shortly before midnight, and grows brighter and larger during December as the distance between Earth and Jupiter shrinks. Jupiter is very bright in the early morning sky. Try to catch the dance of its four moons with your binoculars.
Venus is now the evening jewel. You might spot it shortly after sunset, just before it sets. You might also see much fainter Mercury to the lower left of Venus. Try binoculars for spotting Mercury in the twilight.
The Geminid meteor shower runs from December 7-17, with the peak coming on the night of December 13-14. This is an active shower, and usually produces many meteors. But we need a dark sky to see them. Look in the east, towards Gemini, on December 13-14, before the moon rises around 9 p.m.