Skywatch: Mars shines in early December, and the Geminids peak in the middle of the month


December’s skies offer planetary joy for skywatchers and a casual delight for shooting stars.

a landneighboring planet Mars It becomes bright due to the proximity, but the planet reaches opposition on December 8th.

Our reddish neighbor will be located about 50 million miles from Earth on December 1, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and a week later, on December 8, Mars will be opposite the sun From our terrestrial perspective, according to the US Naval Observatory. Think of opposition as “full Mars.” Essentially, this means that Mars will be bright and brilliant at a magnitude of -1.9 in early December.

Mars rises in the east, as the sun sets in the west—and you can find it lounging near the constellation’s pods the Bull the Bull.

While Mars opposition officially occurs on December 8th, you will see the Red Planet very close to Mars the moon On the evening of December 7th. The western United States will see the full moon obscuring (obscuring) Mars. The metropolitan area will see Mars appear to be clinging close to the Moon.

Later in December, our favorite red planet lost a bit of brightness, dimming to -1.4 magnitude (bright) by the end of the month, according to the observatory.

On December 1st, look for the first quarter moon soon Jupiterwhich appears to hang out in the constellation Pisces In the southeastern sky after dusk. Large gaseous planet – magnitude – 2.6, very bright. Catch Jupiter all month long. The fattening Moon also approaches Jupiter on December 28th, and transits the planet by December 29th.

When the sky gets dark after dusk, look up Saturn In the south and southwest in preparation for tuning. The ringed planet stands at the constellation Capricorn At +0.7 degrees, it fainted a bit under urban conditions.

By mid-December, pick up the terrifying friends Mercury And the Venus In the southwestern sky as dusk falls at night. It is very low on the horizon. Mercury’s fleet will be hard to see at -0.6° (exceptionally bright), but Venus will be bright at -3.9° (exceptionally bright). Venus has been hiding near the Sun since October and will climb into the evening sky in January.

The Geminid meteor shower The peak is December 13-14, and astronomers estimate 150 hours into the late evening, according to the American Meteorological Society ( You won’t see them all, but if the sky is clear and you avoid streetlights, you can catch several of them. The waning moon rises before 10 p.m., and it may wash out some meteors.

Autumn yields for the winter, like December coup Heralding the change of season on December 21, according to the Observatory. On that date, Washington officially gets 9 hours and 26 minutes of daylight, according to the observatory, creating what’s called the shortest day of the year. We’ll see more sunlight the next day.

* December 2 – “The Latest in the Great Dinosaur Extinction,” a talk by Sean Gulick, Research Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Find out how an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs. Hosted by PSW Science. 8 p.m., Powell Ballroom at Club Cosmos, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW in D.C. Information:

* December 4 – View the starry sky in late fall through telescopes provided by members of the Northern Virginia Astronomical Club (NOVAC). At the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, VA (GPS: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway.) Meet at the museum bus stop, 5-7 p.m. Information:

* December 10 – The latest discovery by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Chile) and the James Webb Space Telescope is a recent discovery by astrophysicist Joe Pesci of the National Science Foundation. At the regular meeting (online only) of the National Astronomers. 7:30 p.m. To enter the site, visit:

* December 11 – “Tick, Tick, Tick: Pulsating Star, How We Wonder What You Are” Lecture by astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first radio pulsar in 1967. While Burnell will be lecturing virtually, members and guests are welcome in person to an astronomy club meeting Northern Virginia, Room 3301, Discovery Auditorium, George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Info:

* December 16 – “Returning to the Moon to Survive: The Union of Lunar Surface Innovations,” a talk by planetary geologist Brett Denphy and physicist Wesley Foreman, both of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Hosted by PSW Science. 8 p.m., Powell Ballroom at Club Cosmos, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW in D.C. Information:

* December 17 – “Astronomy for Everyone” at Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County, Virginia, with members of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club to guide you across the skies. 4:30-7:30 p.m. GPS: 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, Va., 20144. Info: Park fee: $10.

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