Evening Planets:

Mercury makes a poor appearance during the 2nd half of the month. Around 13 December, Mercury makes an appearance very low in the bright SW twilight. As the days go by, Mercury struggles to gain some altitude. On 21 December, the planet reaches its poor highest altitude for this showing. Plus, Mercury sets about 45 minutes after Sunset and is stuck in the bright Dusk twilight. After the 21 December, Mercury loses altitude and brightness quickly. By the end of the month, Mercury is lost in the bright twilight after Sunset.

Venus makes an appearance in the evening sky, very low in the SW. Venus suffers the same problem that Mercury has. Around the 21 December, Venus should be visible with difficulty, very low in the bright SW twilight. For the rest of the month, Venus poor position doesn’t improve at all and it sets early. Venus will have a very unfavorable conjunction with the Crescent Moon and Mercury on 24 December.

Saturn is up in the SW as evening darkness falls. The planet’s time as an evening planet is quickly coming to an end. This is the last month for a fairly good view of Saturn in the early evening sky.

Jupiter is still in a very respectable position in the WSW sky at Dusk. Despite Jupiter losing some brightness, it still the brightest planet in the evening sky.

Mars makes a good attempt to gain attention to itself. The planet is closest to Earth for this evening showing on 1 December. Despite its reddish – orange color, Mars isn’t as bright as Jupiter. For the 1st two weeks of the month, Mars manages to hold onto its brightness but things change quickly. Mars is up all night for this very favorable evening showing. As the 2nd half of the month progresses, Mars loses some of its brightness. Enjoy this evening showing of Mars because you’ll have to wait a few years to see Mars this bright again. Mars has a rare occultation by the Full Moon on 7 December.

Morning Planets:

Technically, the morning sky has no bright planets.

1 Dec Waxing Gibbous Moon below Jupiter, Evening

7 Dec Full Moon occultates Mars, Late Evening

10 Dec Waning Gibbous  Moon form a rough triangle with bright stars, Castor and Pollux, Evening

13-14 Dec Geminids Meteor Shower

22-23 Dec Ursids Minor Meteor Shower

24 Dec Crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury form a triangle, Dusk (Unfavorable)

26 Dec Thin Crescent Moon left of Saturn, Dusk

29 Dec 1st Quarter Moon upper left of Jupiter, Evening

Full Moon Occultates the Planet Mars:

On Wednesday night, 7 December, a very rare event will take place. The Full Moon will Occultate the Planet Mars. Here’s the time table of this event:

10:39 pm EST Mars Disappears behind the Moon

11:27 pm EST Mars Reappears from behind the Moon

Observers should start watching this event several minutes before the disappearance. It will seem like Mars will slowly creep up to the edge of the Moon. Then Mars will take several seconds before its completely covered up by the Moon. Later the Planet Mars will slowly emerge from behind  the Moon. Due to Mars brightness and favorable viewing position; this event will be seen with the unaided eye. However, the best views are obtained by using binoculars or telescopes to observe this rare event. This very rare event is very favorable for our viewing area; so, one should take a look at this spectacular event.

Geminids Meteor Shower:

December’s best meteor shower, the Geminids, will happen on the night of 13 -14 December. Except for a few dark early evening hours, the shower will be hampered by a Waning Gibbous Moon. Around 9:30 pm, the Moon will rise and interfere with observing Meteors for the rest of the night. About 30 meteors per hour are predicted in the few dark evening hours. Once the Moon rises; the number of visible meteors will drop significantly. Occasionally, a Geminid meteor will leave a trail behind them.

Ursids Minor Meteor Shower:

On the night of 22-23 December, the Ursids Minor Meteor Shower will happen. Unlike the Geminids, the Ursids will have no lunar interference at all. An observer should consider themselves lucky if they can see 10 meteors per hour. The Ursids also mimic the  Geminids by occasionally leaving a trail behind. This weak meteor shower is favorably placed for our viewing area.

Gary T. Nowak

Vermont Astronomical Society