Decembers Planetary Pile Up

If you were taking note of the High Lights in the last issue (and this one), you would have discovered that December is chock full of planetary action.

The month started off with a very rare event: on December 1st, Venus, Jupiter and the Crescent Moon joined together in the western sky in the early evening right after dusk. Having the three brightest objects in the night sky together in a grouping of less than four degrees was an awe-inspiring sight.

My 10×50 binoculars have a five-degree field of view and so does my little Borg refractor. Even with the unaided eye, this was a real impressive sight.

This is an easy photo opportunity and simple to get some great shots with just about any camera. Do not hesitate to experiment with different camera settings; and never trust your camera in automatic.

Jupiter is now sinking toward the horizon and will soon disappear behind the sun. Venus, on the other hand, will continue to rise higher into the evening sky and become that familiar beacon in the Yukon Winter Night Sky.

On Dec. 3, Neptune and the Crescent Moon are mere degrees apart, presenting an interesting spectacle for those with high-power binoculars and telescopes both small and large.

A Crescent Moon is always great to observe, especially in telescopes. With a great abundance of lunar detail always visible, and not to too much lunar reflectivity, it makes for great high-power viewing.

Now add to that the little blue planet Neptune (which is actually huge) and you have an awesome spectacle. Even through large telescopes, Neptune is just a small little blue dot, but it still makes an impressive view.

Dec. 10,the Pleiades Star Cluster (the brightest star cluster in the night sky) and the Moon do a passing in the night sky after midnight. This is called an occultation. You will see the moon crossing in front of the star cluster temporarily blocking out some of the stars and then a few minutes later they re-appear from behind the moon. I have seen this many times before and this is a great event to observe, great in binoculars.

Needless to say, this is another excellent photo opportunity.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is happening on Dec. 13. Unfortunately the moon will put a damper on the evening highlight. A few of the brighter meteors always escape the moonlight and become visible, so keep a close eye out for them.

Venus and Neptune are a mere 1.5 degrees apart in the early evening sky on Dec. 26. You will need high-power binoculars or preferably a telescope to view this planetary event. With Venus so bright and Neptune dim, it makes for an interesting view.

A triple shot of celestial gatherings take place just after sunset on Dec. 28, low in the southwestern sky. A high vantage point is mandatory for this event. First, locate Jupiter; this should be pretty easy considering that it will be by far the brightest object in that part of the sky. Just about directly below Jupiter you will find Mercury and a thin Crescent Moon. This will make another awesome photo opportunity, especially with an interesting landmark, mountain or cool-looking frost-and-ice-covered trees in the foreground.

The best is saved for last: on Dec. 31, low in the southwestern sky, at around 5 a.m., Venus and the Crescent Moon are just two degrees apart and present a magnificent view.

Below these two, Jupiter and the planet Mercury are just over one degree apart.

I have to repeat myself: you must have a good and high vantage point. This is called a double conjunction and very rare. It is definitely worth getting off the couch for.

I have seen the planets forming a roughly straight line in the sky before, but I cannot recall a double conjunction before. What a great way to end one year and kick off the next.

December Yukon Night Skies are action packed with all kinds of celestial events. Do yourself a favour and grab the current issue of Sky News, your favourite binoculars or telescope and head outside and check out those fascinating Yukon Night Skies.

Clear Skies, from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.


A few different perspectives

From a pretty crescent moon at low power …

… to the beautiful soft surface at medium power …

… to the awesome depth of the lunar craters at high power.



High Lights

Dec. 3 Neptune and the crescent Moon are less than one degree apart this evening. Another amazing photo opportunity.

Dec. 5 First quarter Moon

Dec. 10 The Moon occults (passes in front of) the Pleiades Star Cluster. Happens after midnight.

Dec. 12 Full Moon.

Dec. 13 Geminid meteor shower. Poor show due to a nearly full Moon.

Dec. 19 Last quarter Moon.

Dec. 26 Venus and Neptune close together in the evening sky.

Dec. 27 New Moon.

Dec. 28 Mercury, Jupiter and a thin crescent Moon make an excellent grouping in the evening sky.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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