Astronomy events of December 2011

SkyCaramba weekly astronomy blog for the week ending December 3, 2011

December starts with a nearly first quarter moon 6 degrees north of Neptune. Three nights later, the moon is 6 degrees north of Uranus. The moon’s light could overcome the light of these two planets. Do try to remember where the moon was and look for them two weeks later when the moon’s not up in the evening sky.

Mercury is passing between the earth and sun on the 4th. You might find the planet low in the east at dawn later this month. The moon will pass 2.5 degrees south of it on the 23rd.

Venus is becoming a so-called evening star in Sagittarius at the start of the month and Capricorn a few weeks later. Find it after sunset gradually getting higher as darkness sets in. On the 1st, if you’re far enough south, you may see the planet near the top of the teapot. The star is Kaus Borealis. A young moon will be 6.4 degrees north of the planet on the 27th.

Mars rises around midnight under the belly of Leo heading eastward this month. A last quarter moon passes south of the red planet on the 16th. Mars will be a ways under the lion’s tail by month’s end. Mars will be around the meridian (the north-south line over your location) around the time the sun comes up.

Jupiter was at opposition last month and rises a little earlier in December. So you’ll find it in the east when the sun goes down. It’s motion is retrograde (westward) and becoming stationary until it resumes direct motion the last week of the month.

Saturn is up in the morning near Spica and moving east. Look at the rings this month if you have a telescope. They’re splayed nicely. Watch from night to night and you may catch a glimpse of one or more of the planet’s moons.

The full moon will spend 51 minutes in the darkest part of the earth’s shadow on the 10th. The moon will be setting as the eclipse begins in the mainland United States, most of Canada, and a large part of the Pacific Ocean. All of Alaska and Australia will see the entire thing. So will most of Asia and a few places in the Norse countries. For southwest Asia, most of Europe, and most of Africa, the eclipse will be ending as the moon rises. South America, Antarctica, and most of the Atlantic won’t get this show.

The two familiar asterisms of Aries are up all night this month. See the earlier blog entry about the Pleiades, then look for the Hyades below them. The nearly full moon goes south of the Pleiades on the 8th, just north of the Hyades on the 9th, and a little further on for that eclipse on the 10th.

Orion and Gemini rise later in the evening. Leo rises around midnight. Virgo is up in the morning.

The Geminid meteor shower is one of the most reliable, but seeing the meteors this year at peak time on the 14th and 15th will be hard. The moon’s light will overcome many of them.

Those are some of the astronomy events you can enjoy in December 2011. Here are some links to help you with more information. Fred Espenak’s NASA pdf on the lunar eclipse. A meteor shower guide from EarthSky.