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December 2016 Observing Guide

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9 months 5 days ago #106260 by Neill
Neill created the topic: December 2016 Observing Guide
Hi all,

December's guide is below, enjoy!

OBSERVING GUIDE
(Please note all times are UT and are based on an observing location of Belfast and covers the month of December)


The Sun

At the start of the month, the Sun rises at 08:25 and sets at 16:00. By month's end, it rises at 08:45 and sets at 16:05.

The Planets

Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on the 11th and is visible for the 1st half of the month low in the W for less than an hour after sunset. It is at inferior conjunction on the 28th.

Venus is visible in the evening sky this month, moving from Sagittarius to Aquarius. It sets at 18:45 at the start of the month; by month’s end it sets at 20:15. It brightens from mag -4.1 to mag -4.3 during the month.

Mars is visible in the evening sky this month, moving from Capricornus to Aquarius. It is visible as soon as darkness falls during the month and sets at 21:30 by month’s end. It fades from mag +0.6 to mag +0.9 during the month.

Jupiter is in the morning sky this month in Virgo. At the start of the month, it rises at 03:20, by month’s end; it rises at 01:45. It brightens from mag -1.6 to mag -1.8 during the month.

Saturn is at conjunction on the 10th and is not visible this month.

Uranus is visible in the evening sky this month in Pisces. During the month, it rises during daylight hours and sets at 01:40 by month’s end. It maintains it brightness at mag +5.8 during the month.

Neptune is at Eastern Quadrature on the 1st and is visible in the evening sky this month in Aquarius. During the month, it rises during daylight hours and sets at 21:35 by month’s end. It maintains its brightness at mag +7.9 during the month. The below link contains finder charts for both Uranus and Neptune.

The Moon

The first quarter moon is on the 7th with the full moon on the 14th. The last quarter moon is on the 21st with the new moon on the 29th. The full moon on the 14th falls within the definition of the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system phenomenon.

There are two lunar occultations this month. On the evening of the 6th, the waxing crescent moon occults Neptune. The planet disappears at around 22:30 and the moon will set before it reappears. On the morning of the 13th, the waxing gibbous occults Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9). The star will disappear at around 05:20 and reappear at around 05:45.

On the evenings of the 2nd and 3rd, the waxing crescent moon lies near to Venus. On the 2nd, it lies to the W of the planet and on the 3rd, to the N of it. On both evenings, look at around 18:00.

On the evenings of the 4th and 5th, the waxing crescent moon lies near to Mars. On the 4th, it lies 8° to the SW of the planet and on the following evening, it lies 7° to the NE of it. On both evenings, look at around 18:00.

On the evening of the 9th, the waxing gibbous moon lies 7° to the SW of Uranus at around 18:00.

On the evening of the 18th, the waning gibbous moon lies 8° to the SE of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at around 23:00.

On the mornings of the 22nd and 23rd, the waning crescent moon lies near to Jupiter and Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +1.0). On the morning of the 22nd, it lies to the NW of both objects and on the 23rd, it lies 6° to the SE of the planet and 6° to the NE of the star. On both mornings, look at around 04:00.
Meteors

The best time to observe meteor showers is when the moon is below the horizon; otherwise its bright glare limits the number you will see especially the fainter ones. Below is a guide to this month's showers.

The Geminids peak in the morning of the 14th with a ZHR of 120. It is one of the main showers of the year, but it is no good this year as the night of the peak coincides with the full moon. It will put on a better show next year.

The Ursids peak in the morning of the 22nd with a ZHR of 10. The radiant is circumpolar and this combined with the waning crescent moon only rising in Virgo at around 01:20 on the 22nd, allows for a decent observing window for this shower in the evening skies of the 21st.

Asteroids

There are no bright asteroids at opposition this month.

Comets

Comet 45/P Honda-Mrjos-Pajdusakova is visible in December. It will be v low in the W sky after sunset during the month. It is below the horizon by 18:00 till mid-month. By month’s end, it hangs around until 19:00. It is at perihelion on the 31st and starts the month in Sagittarius. It moves into Capricornus during the 3rd week of the month. It lies close to M75 (mag +9 globular cluster) around the 15th, by then it is predicted to be mag +10. It then brightens to mag +7 by perihelion.

Any of the above estimates are based on current information at the time of writing the guide and can be wrong - “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want”, David H Levy.

Deep Sky

On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. In Andromeda, M31 - The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster - NGC 869 and 884. In Triangulum, there is the galaxy M33. In Auriga there are three open clusters M36, M37 and M38 and also M35 in Gemini. Taurus has the excellent Pleiades - M45, the Hyades and also M1 - The Crab Nebula. Orion returns to our skies with M42 - The Great Orion Nebula and also Cancer with M44 - The Beehive Cluster.

General Notes

Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. The winter solstice is on the 21st which sees the shortest day of the year and after this date the nights shorten and the days lengthen. This also sees the beginning of winter. Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein. Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system.

The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky - it's then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon. A new appendix has been added explaining some of the more technical terms used in the guide.

Clear Skies

Neill McKeown

Appendix

The ZHR or Zenithal Hourly Rate is the number of meteors an observer would see in one hour under a clear, dark sky with a limiting apparent magnitude of 6.5 and if the radiant of the shower were in the zenith. The rate that can effectively be seen is nearly always lower and decreases as the radiant is closer to the horizon. The Zenith is the overhead point in the sky.

The radiant is the point in the sky, from which (to a planetary observer) meteors appear to originate, i.e. the Perseids, for example, are meteors which appear to come from a point within the constellation of Perseus. When the radiant is quoted as "circumpolar", it is never below the horizon and visible all night, otherwise the times quoted are when the constellation in which the radiant lies rises above the horizon in the East.

A fireball is defined by the International Astronomical Union as a meteor brighter than any of the planets, i.e. magnitude -4 or brighter. The International Meteor Organisation alternatively defines it as a meteor which would have a magnitude of -3 or brighter at the zenith.

The ° symbol in the guide is that for degrees. A degree is two full moon widths to give an idea for judging any distances quoted in the guide. There are 60 arcminutes in a degree.

An asterism is a collection of stars seen in Earth's sky which form simple patterns which are easy to identify, i.e. the Big Dipper. They can be formed from stars within the same constellation or by stars from more than one constellation. Like the constellations, they are a line of sight phenomenon and the stars whilst visible in the same general direction, are not physically related and are often at significantly different distances from Earth.

Mag is short for magnitude which is the measure of an object's brightness. The smaller the number, the brighter the object. The brightest object in the sky is the Sun at mag -26, the full moon is mag -12 and Venus the brightest planet is mag -4. The brightest stars are mag -1. If there is a 1 mag difference between two objects - there is a difference in brightness of a factor of 2.5 between the two objects. For example the full moon is eight magnitudes brighter than Venus on average which means it is 1,526 times brighter than Venus. Objects down to mag +6 can be seen with the naked eye under very dark skies.

Local time is always quoted in the guide and this means for November - February - universal time (UT)/GMT is used and for April to September - daylight savings time (DST, = GMT+1). For the months of March and October when the clocks go forward/back respectively, both times will be used and attention should be paid to any times at the end of these months for that change.

Deep Sky Objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters are classified in catalogues such as the Messier catalogue for objects like M44 - M for Messier. Another example of a catalogue would the New General catalogue whose objects have the prefix NGC. There are links for websites to both catalogues in the section above.

Perihelion is the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid or comet where it is at the nearest point in its orbit to the sun. It is the opposite of Aphelion, which is when the object is at the farthest point in its orbit from the sun. For the earth, the comparative terms used are perigee and apogee and for the moon, pericynthion and apocynthion are sometimes used.

The perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system occurs when the center of the Full/New Moon is less than 360,000 kilometers from the center of Earth. The opposite effect is the apogee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system which occurs when the center of the Full/New Moon is more than 405,000 kilometers from the center of Earth. The term syzygy refers to the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (via www.timeanddate.com ).

The Planets

From Earth - Mercury and Venus are the inner planets in the solar system and Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are the outer planets. Below is a short guide as to how both the inner and outer planets move around the sun.

The Inner Planets

These are best seen when at Greatest Eastern/Western elongation and are not visible when at either Inferior/Superior conjunction. Greatest Eastern elongation is when the inner planet is at its furthest point east from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the evening sky in the West after sunset, Western elongation is when it's at its furthest point west from the sun as seen from Earth and visible in the morning sky in the East before sunrise. Inferior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is between the Sun and the Earth. Superior conjunction occurs when the inner planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.

From our Northerly latitudes, the ecliptic, along which the planets move, lies at a very shallow angle to the horizon after sunset in the autumn and before sunrise in the spring. This means that any of the planets will be difficult to see when fairly close to the Sun in the evening sky in the autumn or in the morning sky in the spring. In particular, Mercury is more or less invisible from here when at Eastern elongation in the autumn or at Western elongation in the spring, because it lies so close to the horizon and is never above the horizon except in daylight or bright twilight.

The normal cycle for an inner planet is Superior Conjunction - Greatest Eastern Elongation - Inferior Conjunction - Greatest Western Elongation - Superior Conjunction. After superior conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible in the evening sky after a period of time. It then moves past the point of Greatest Eastern Elongation and moves back towards the Sun as seen from Earth until a point when it is not visible and at Inferior Conjunction. After this the planet appears in the morning sky for a time, before again slipping into the Sun's glare as seen from Earth. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet's closeness to the Sun, i.e. Mercury completes the above cycle in around 4 months.

The Outer Planets

These are best seen when at opposition and are not visible when at conjunction. Opposition occurs when the earth is between the sun and the outer planet. It is the best time to observe them because the planet is visible all through the night and it is due South and at its highest at about midnight. The planet is also at its closest point in its orbit to Earth - making it appear brighter. Conjunction occurs when the outer planet is on the other side of the Sun as seen from Earth.

If the planet is at or near it furthest point South along the ecliptic, then it won't get very high in the sky even at opposition - just as the Sun never gets high in the sky in midwinter. This happens when opposition occurs near midsummer when the planet is opposite the Sun in the sky and in midsummer the Sun is high, so the planet will be low. The opposite of course applies in winter.

The normal cycle for an outer planet is Conjunction - Western Quadrature - Opposition - Eastern Quadrature - Conjunction. After conjunction, the planet moves away from the Sun as seen from Earth and becomes visible again. The planet from this point on rises earlier and earlier in the morning sky and eventually becomes visible in the evening sky. At Western Quadrature it is at its highest at sunrise and by opposition it is in the same position by midnight. By Eastern Quadrature, it is past its best and is at its highest at sunset, meaning it is rising in daytime and setting earlier and earlier until a point when it sets too close to the Sun as seen from Earth and is no longer visible. The duration of this cycle will depend on the planet's closeness to the Sun, i.e. Jupiter completes the above cycle in around 13-14 months.

Linda: "All in all, this is one day Mittens the kitten won't soon forget."
Morbo: "Kittens give Morbo gas."
The following user(s) said Thank You: michael_murphy, lunartic, johnomahony

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  • Neill
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9 months 5 days ago - 9 months 5 days ago #106261 by Neill
Neill replied the topic: December 2016 Observing Guide
The Planets

www.skyandtelescope.com/wp-content/uploa..._UrNep16_Finders.pdf

Meteors

There may be additional minor showers this month, details of which can be found at meteorshowersonline.com/calendar.html or imo.net/files/data/calendar/cal2016.pdf

Asteroids

Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found at; britastro.org/computing/charts_asteroid.html in the source list below.

Comets

Finder charts and further information about the above and other fainter comets can be found at www.aerith.net , cometchasing.skyhound.com, www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ , in-the-sky.org, www.nightskyhunter.com/index.html in the source list below.

Information Sources Used and Links

Sky at Night Magazine Observing Guide; www.aerith.net;cometchasing.skyhound.com ; www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ ; kometen.fg-vds.de/fgk_hpe.htm ; Stardust Magazine; britastro.org/computing/charts_asteroid.html ; in-the-sky.org ; www.nightskyhunter.com/index.html ; www.eag...meris/ephemeris.html; eco.mtk.nao.ac.jp/cgi-bin/koyomi/cande/phenomena_en.cgi;
Philip's Stargazing 2016; Patrick Moore's 2016 Yearbook of Astronomy; www.heavens-above.com;www.spaceweather.com ;meteorshowersonline.com/calendar.html ; www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/;http://ww...calendar/cal2016.pdf - International Meteor Organisation; messier.seds.org/ - The Messier Catalogue website; www.seds.org/messier/xtra/ngc/ngc.html - NGC Catalogue website; www.irishastronomy.org - Irish Federation of Astronomy Societies Website; irishastro.org.uk/- Irish Astronomical Association website; www.eaas.co.uk - Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society; www.skyandtelescope.com/wp-content/uploa..._UrNep16_Finders.pdf


Linda: "All in all, this is one day Mittens the kitten won't soon forget."
Morbo: "Kittens give Morbo gas."
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9 months 3 days ago #106266 by lunartic
lunartic replied the topic: December 2016 Observing Guide
Look forward to the occultation of Neptune, it's at a pity we won't see the reappearance. The Aldebaran event will depend on the mood the night before, it's a work day, so I suppose getting up a little earlier won't matter much.

Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better programs, and the universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the universe is winning.

Rich Cook

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