Poster’s Note: The text for this month’s installment from Dee Sharples, “The Sky In December 2023,” is provided below. Those wishing to listen to the article can click on the audio link below.
December – daylight is scarce and nights are cold but a beautiful meteor shower will fill the sky with shooting stars at its peak on December 13-14. The Geminids meteor shower won’t have any competition from the moon which will be only one day past new. The radiant will be nearly 30° high in the east-northeast by 9:00 p.m. on the 13th. This is the area of the sky near the star Castor in the constellation Gemini where the meteors will appear to originate.
The meteors are created by the dust shed by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon when it visited our solar system.
The rate of meteors will start to increase around midnight with the best display in the early morning hours of the 14th when the radiant is highest in the sky. The Earth will be traveling headlong into the debris increasing the number and speed of meteoroids slamming into our atmosphere. You can expect to see more than 100 meteors per hour from a dark sky site.
One hour before the sun rises on December 8th, look southeast for a waning crescent moon 2° above the star Spica. Venus will shine brightly to the lower left. On the evening of December 17th, look for the waxing crescent moon below and to the left of the planet Saturn shining at magnitude +0.9.
If you have a telescope, the planet Jupiter is well placed for observing all month. Shining at bright magnitude -2.7, it can be found high in south on the 1st of December at 9:30 p.m. By the end of the month, it will be in the same position at 7:30 p.m. Look for its four largest Galilean moons circling the planet in an ever-changing dance. Through binoculars, you’ll be able to see at least two of the moons on a clear evening.
The winter solstice arrives at 10:27 p.m. on December 21st. It will be the day with the shortest number of daylight hours of the entire year – only 8 hours 59 minutes 10 seconds.