Science

The Sky Above You – December 2022

By Duncan Lunan

The Moon will be Full on December 8th, when it will have a total eclipse visible from North America and the Pacific, but not from here.  It will be New on December 23rd.

After years of delays, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission is now in distant orbit around the Moon.  It’s due to make another close lunar flyby and return to Earth on December 11th.  Apart from one minor blip in communications, everything has gone fine, although the secondary payloads to be left in lunar orbit have not fared so well.  One of the most important, Lunar Flashlight, missed the deadline altogether and will now fly on a different rocket – possibly for the best, because four of the other nine have not made contact since their release, and this may be because their batteries ran down due to the launch delays after they were sealed into the vehicle.  As they’re ‘cubesats’, with built-in solar power, one or more of them may revive in sunlight, but they won’t make the intended orbits and will still be adrift in space.

The planet Mercury will reappear in the evening sky with Venus in December, at greatest elongation from the Sun on December 21st, coinciding with the winter solstice.  Mercury is between Venus and the crescent Moon on December 25th, closest to Venus on the 29th.

Venus is back in the evening sky in December, still low in the southwest, passed by the Moon on the 24th and setting at 5.30 p.m. by the end of the year. 

Mars is in Taurus, growing ever brighter and moving in reverse direction in the sky as it approaches its nearest to us on December 1st.  In November Mars was between the horns of the Bull, but as we enter December it’s retreating back towards the Pleiades and Hyades, which it will pass before the end of the month. Due to its elliptical orbit, Mars will be at opposition, due south at midnight, on December 8th, coinciding with the Full Moon.  By coincidence, between 4.55 a.m. and 5.55 a.m. that night, Mars will be occulted by the Moon, for the first time since 1952 and the last time till 2052.  The planet’s brightness at that time will compensate for the fact that it won’t appear or disappear at a dark lunar edge.

Jupiter sets just after midnight in December.  The Moon is near Jupiter on December 1st and December 29th.

Saturn in Capricornus sets at 8.30 p.m. in early December.  The Moon appears nearby on December 26th, but by then Saturn will be disappearing into the twilight.

Uranus in Aries, occulted by the Moon for the second time this year  (seen from here), on December 5th , starting just before before 5.00 p.m., when it will disappear to the north of the Bay of Rainbows, and reappearing at the bright limb of the Moon, well north of Mare Crisium, 22 minutes later.

Neptune, between Aquarius and Pisces, sets at 11.30 p.m. in December, reversing its motion on December 4th.  Neptune appears near the Moon on December 1st and 28th.

The Geminid shower from the asteroid Phaethon peaks on 13th-14th December, but the Moon will spoil it when it rises at 9 p.m..

Duncan Lunan’s most recent books, From the Moon to the Stars and The Other Side of the Interface, published by Other Side Books in 2019 and 2021, are available through Amazon  or from the publishers.  For details and for his other books see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.

You can download a copy of the December 2022 star map here