The month of December promises to be an action-packed month of celestial events for every amateur astronomer and nighttime photographer. As long as the weather holds, we will be in for a very busy month.
The month starts out with Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. This little planet is always elusive to find because its orbit always keeps it close to the sun. On December 1, Mercury was the furthest away from the sun as it is going to get, and about 21 degrees to the east.
Find an observing site with an excellent view to the west. Mercury will be found very close to the horizon in the evening skies. An interesting fact about Mercury and Venus is that they both have phases like our own moon. To see this you will need a high-powered spotting scope or telescope.
On December 2, Venus and the crescent moon present a great photo opportunity in the morning hours. As the moon will be below Venus, just add a tree or boat to your picture and you have all the makings of a great picture.
Two days later, on December 4, Venus will be at its most brilliant in the morning sky.
To see elusive Mercury, in the evening sky on December 7 locate the crescent moon. Then look seven degrees down, or a little more than a binocular field.
Binoculars or a small telescope would be the preferred choice of viewing instruments for viewing this event.
The Geminid meteor shower will happen on December 13 and continue until the morning hours on December 14. For once the moon will be out of our Yukon Night Sky around midnight, so we will be in for a real treat.
Geminid meteors are renowned for being large and slow-burning, making for an awesome view or photograph. The meteor shower will peak at around 3:00 am on December 14. All you need to enjoy this awesome light show is your eyes, a chair, hot coffee, and a camera.
The Pleiades star cluster and the moon are a mere one degree apart on December 18, making an excellent photo opportunity. The Pleiades star cluster looks like a miniature Big Dipper and can be easily seen with the unaided eye.
The highlight for the month is the total lunar eclipse which starts on the evening of December 20 around 9:29 pm. It will continue on until the early morning of December 21.
On Monday night starting at 9:30 pm you will see a gradual darkening of the moon and then at 10:30 pm you will see the first dark bite taken out of the moon. By 11:40 pm the moon is in full eclipse and should be a reddish copper colour. I have seen this several times and it makes for awesome pictures as well.
The moon remains in full eclipse for 36 minutes, ending around 2:00 am. This is an amazing opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse. If you are using binoculars or a telescope, you will also be able to see M35, one of the Yukon Night Skies’ best star clusters, which makes this lunar eclipse even more thrilling.
December is a frosty month for amateur astronomers, but with this much action in the night skies it will be hard to stay indoors. Take some time and head outside with your binoculars or telescope to see the greatest of light shows, the Yukon Night Skies.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.