Space Talk w/ Bradley: Your December Night Sky Guide

Science

(WVNS) — Stormtracker59 Meteorologist Bradley Wells is back with another look at the upcoming celestial events that will delight our region all month long. With the month of December upon us, those of us in the two Virginia’s will be treated to a dazzling meteor shower, the Cold Moon, and even a chance to see a comet! Remember to bookmark this page so you and your family can enjoy all the October night skies have to offer.

The following events are marked below for your convenience.
NAKED EYE EVENT: The event is visible without the aid of binoculars or telescopes in dark sky conditions.
TELESCOPE EVENT: The event is enhanced by the use or requires a hobby telescope or binoculars
LARGE TELESCOPE EVENT: A large (8-10 inch) professional telescope is required to view the event.

DECEMBER 3rd – EXTRA BRIGHT VENUS: NAKED EYE EVENT – Our sister planet Venus will reach its “greatest illuminated extent”. This mean Venus will appear brighter in our night skies. Look towards the southwest sky after sunset to find Venus. While Venus will still be in our night sky after this night, it will lose some brightness past December 3rd.

DECEMBER 3rd- A NEW COMET TELESCOPE EVENT – A telescope or binoculars are still needed to view our solar systems newest discovered comet. Discovered on January 3, 2021, by G.J. Leonard. Comet Leonard is growing in brightness as it approaches the Sun. It is very close to the threshold needed to see with the naked eye. On this night, the comet will be located in the east just above the horizon after midnight. With the new moon on December 4th, this will be a great night for viewing. For now, the two Virginia’s are on comet watch for the month of December for if, or when Comet Leonard breaks the naked eye intensity threshold.

DECEMBER 6th – CRESENT MOON & VENUS: NAKED EYE EVENT – Our emerging moon will look like a curled sliver in the night sky. As it rises, it will pass by Venus pairing the two celestial bodies for the night. The low light from the moon will make tonight a good night for telescope users to see lunar mountains along the moons edge.

DECEMBER 7th – DANCE PARTERS SWITCH: NAKED EYE EVENT – Our crescent moon danced with Venus the night before but tonight the moon moves on to another planet. Our moon and Saturn will join in the night sky in the early evening. Look in the southwest sky in the constellation Capricorn shortly after sunset to find the two.

DECEMBER 8th – MOON MOVES ON: NAKED EYE EVENT – Apparently Saturn couldn’t keep up with our dancing moon this month. On this night our growing crescent moon changes partners again and moves on to Jupiter. Still in the Southwest sky within the constellation Capricorn, our moon and Jupiter will pair up for the evening.

DECEMBER 9th – COMET LEONARD GETS BRIGHTER: TELESCOPE EVENT – Once again Comet Leonard graces our skies this time in the eastern morning sky. The comet will rise above the horizon around 3:30 am. Best viewing will be just before sunrise as the comet inches higher in the sky and before the morning sun washes it out. At this point, binoculars can be used to start looking for the comet.

DECEMBER 10th – PICKY MOON: NAKED EYE EVENT: – It would seem our restless moon is moving on once again. This time, our moon with dance the night away with another planet. Neptune and our half moon will join forces in the night sky after sunset into the morning hours. While you’ll be able to find the moon without aid, Neptune will need a telescope to find. Though, the moon will provide telescope users a guide making the elusive far planet easier to find.

DECEMBER 14th – GEMINIDS METEOR SHOWER: NAKED EYE EVENT – One of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year peaks this night. The unique make up of the Geminids meteors makes this event one stargazers wait for all year long. Sand grains left in Earth’s path from asteroid 3200 Phaethon give this meteor shower slower moving shooting stars that come in a variety of colors. Different materials in each grain of sand burn at different colors in the sky. Under the best condition, up to 120 meteors an hour can be expected. With a half moon in the early morning sky, the two Virginias can expect to see 50-80 meteors an hour. While the meteor shower goes from mid November to Christmas Eve, this night is the best night for viewing as the number of meteors shrink after peak.

DECEMBER 17th – LOST LOVERS GROUP MEETING: NAKED EYE EVENT – As our growing moon continue to move around the sky it is leaving behind its dance partners. It just so happens Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn for a group of their own this night. The three planets will be joining together in the Southwest sky diagonally across the constellation Capricorn. Those with telescopes will have plenty view including the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and the gas bands on Venus.

DECEMBER 19th – THE COLD MOON: NAKED EYE EVENT – December’s full moon has many names, but the Cold Moon derives from the full moon closest to the winter solstice. Used as a way to know when the cold, harsh winters were on their way in. The Cold Moon also goes by the Full Oak Moon, the Long Nights Moon, and the Little Spirit Moon. This moon always shines near or in the stars of Gemini. The Cold Moon reaches the same height in the sky as the highest summer sun. At night, the Cold Moon will cast the same shadows as the highest summer sun. This complete the Sun to Moon transition.

DECEMBER 21st – WINTER SOLSTICE: The first official day of Winter occurs at 10:59 A.M. This is when the sun will reach its lowest spot in the sky giving us our shortest day of the year. On the reverse, it also means this is our longest night of the year. Since the Summer Solstice back in June, we’ve lost a total of 4 hours and 44 minutes of daylight. After 3 days, the sun will being to rise higher in the sky until the next Summer Solstice in June of 2022. This time, we’ll gain the 4 hours and 44 minutes of daylight back.

CHRISTMAS DAY/DECEMBER 25th – CHRISTMAS STAR: NAKED EYE EVENT – On this night we’ll be greeted by the Christmas Star in the Southeast sky. Sirius, our neighboring star, will reach its highest, brightness and height in the sky. Around 7 p.m., Sirius will be the brightest star in the night sky not even the near full moon will be able to dim.

DECEMBER 26th – MARS AND ITS TWIN: NAKED EYE EVENT – A star in our galaxy often gets mistaken as the Planet Mars. This red giant appears in similar size and color as our own red planet. This stars Greek name, Antares, translates to “anti-mars” or “not mars” showing humans have mistaken the two for millennia. On this night, Mars and ‘anti-mars’ join together in the night sky. Surprisingly, Antares will be the brighter of the two while both the star and Mars will appear reddish in color. Coincidently as the red Mars and the blue Earth share the same system, Antares is in a binary system with a blue star, Antares-B. Even at 550 million light years apart, it would seem we have a twin system one made of planets and the other made of stars.

DECEMBER 28th – HOT AND GASSY: NAKED EYE EVENT – Two of our suns closest planets will pair up in the early evening sky. Just at sunset, Venus and Mercury will be visible in the Southwest sky. An unobstructed view of the horizon will be needed to watch these two planets dance their way below it.

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