By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on December 30th, and it will be New on December 14th. On December 14th there will be a total solar eclipse along a track from the South Pacific, across Chile and Argentina and on into the South Atlantic. The winter solstice is on December 21st, also the date of a close conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
The planet Mercury is out of view in December, and in superior conjunction beyond the Sun on December 20th.
Venus remains brilliant in the morning sky, rising at 5.30 a.m. in December and passing above Antares in Scorpius on December 24th, but getting too near the Sun to be visible by the end of the month. The Moon is near Venus on 12th December. Europe’s Solar Orbiter will fly past Venus in December, changing its orbit to fly over the poles of the Sun.
Mars is in Pisces, and sets about 2.30 a.m. in early December, midnight by mid-month. The Moon is near Mars on the night of 23rd December.
Jupiter in Sagittarius sets at 6.30 p.m. in December, very close to Saturn on the 21st, in their first conjunction for 20 years.The Moon is near Jupiter on December 17th.
Saturn remains close to Jupiter all month, only 6 arcminutes apart (one-fifth of the Moon’s apparent diameter, in the same field of view through a telescope) on December 21st. – the closest conjunction between the two planets for 397 years, since June 1623, and the closest to come until 2080. The Moon is near Saturn on December 17th, both setting in early evening with Jupiter.
Uranus is in Aries, and sets about 4 a.m. in December, near the Moon on December 24th.
Neptune in Aquarius sets around 11 p.m. in December, still moving retrograde (east to west) after being passed by the Earth at opposition in mid-September. The Moon appears near Neptune on December 20th.
The Geminid meteors from asteroid Phaeton peak on the night of 13-14th December, best from 1 a.m. onwards, and this year they will not be spoiled by moonlight. The much smaller Ursid shower peaks on the morning of December 22nd. Quadrantid meteors can be seen from December 28th to 10th January, with the peak around January 3rd.
Duncan Lunan’s latest books “From the Moon to the Stars” and “The Other Side of the Interface”, collections of his space travel stories, old and new, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, are now available on Amazon or through booksellers; details of them and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.