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December 2023 Observing Guide

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2 months 3 weeks ago #112162 by Neill
December 2023 Observing Guide was created by Neill
Hi all,PLEASE NOTE THE BELOW SUMMARY AND GUIDE IS FOR AN APPROXIMATE LATITUDE OF 55 DEGREES NORTH One big naked eye highlight in December. The Geminid meteor shower peaks at 7pm on the 14th. The radiant is visible from 6pm on the evening of the 14th. The waxing crescent moon sets before 5pm on the 14th, so this is a very good year for this shower (weather permitting!). In terms of how many meteors you may see, you are advised to get to dark skies away from light pollution to maximise the number you can see. The predicted theoretical hourly rate is 150 meteors at the peak, but you will not see that many. However you may see a good number of meteors if the weather co-operates and remember to wrap up warm if going out to view this shower. OBSERVING GUIDE(Please note all times are UT unless otherwise stated 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 Regular Stuff Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on the 4th and at inferior conjunction on the 22nd. It is visible very low in the evening sky at the start of the month, setting at 16:50 and is mag -0.4 in Sagittarius. It is visible very low again, but this time in the morning sky at month’s end when it rises at 07:20 when it is mag +0.8 in Ophiuchus.
Venus is visible in the morning sky this month, moving from Virgo to Libra. It rises at 04:10 at the start of the month and at 05:40 by month’s end. It fades from mag -4.1 to mag -4.0 during the month.

Mars is not visible this month.

Jupiter is visible in the evening sky this month in Aries. It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 03:10 by month’s end. It fades during the month from mag -2.7 to mag -2.5. Saturn is visible in the evening sky this month in Aquarius. It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 20:55 by month’s end. It maintains its brightness at mag +0.9 during the month.
Uranus is visible in the evening sky this month in Aries. It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 04:35 by month’s end. It fades from mag +5.6 to mag +5.7 during the month. It lies below Botein (Delta (δ) Arietis, mag +4.3).
Neptune at eastern quadrature on the 17th and is visible in the evening sky this month, moving from Aquarius to Pisces. It rises during daylight hours during the month and sets at 23:05 by month’s end. It maintains its brightness at mag +7.9 during the month. It lies below Lambda (λ) Piscium, mag +4.5 which is in the Circlet asterism. The Moon

The last quarter moon is on the 5th (05:49). The new moon is on the 12th (23:32). The first quarter moon is on the 19th (18:39). The full moon is on the 27th (00:33). Regular Stuff  3rd am the 70% waning gibbous lies above Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at Midnight.4th am the 61% waning gibbous lies above left of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at Midnight.5th am the 52% waning gibbous lies below left of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at Midnight.8th am the 23% waning crescent lies above Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +1.0) at 04:00.9th am the 15% waning crescent lies right of Venus and below left of Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +1.0) at 05:00.10th am the 8% waning crescent lies below Venus at 06:00.17th pm the 27% waxing crescent lies below Saturn at 18:00.18th pm the 38% waxing crescent lies above left of Saturn at 18:00.19th pm the first quarter moon lies left of Neptune at 18:00.22nd pm the 81% waxing gibbous lies above left of Jupiter at 18:00.23rd pm the 89% waxing gibbous lies left of Uranus at 18:00.24th pm the 95% waxing gibbous lies below left of M45 – The Pleiades and above Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) at 18:00.25th pm the 98% waxing gibbous lies above left of Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) at 18:00.30th pm the 86% waning gibbous lies above Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at 21:00.31st pm the 78% waning gibbous lies below left of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at 22:00. 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 at 19:00 on the 14th with a ZHR of 150. The radiant is visible from 18:00 on the evening of the 14th. The waxing crescent moon sets at 16:45 on the 14th, so this is a very good year for this shower (weather permitting!). There may be additional minor showers this month, details of which can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section. 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. Asteroids

Asteroid (4) Vesta is at opposition on the evening of the 21st and is mag +6.4 in Orion. It will be visible as soon as darkness falls on the 21st. Asteroid (9) Metis is at opposition on the evening of the 22nd and is mag +8.4 in Gemini. It will be visible as soon as darkness falls on the 22nd. Asteroid (5) Astraea is at opposition on the morning of the 29th and is mag +9.4 in Orion. It will be visible as soon as darkness falls on the 28th. Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section.

Comets

Comet 62P/Tsuchinshan is currently mag +10 and is predicted to peak at mag +9 when at perihelion on Christmas Day. It is in Leo and is visible from 22:00 during the month. It lies to the left of Eta (η) Leonis, mag +3.5 on the evening of the 7th. It lies below right of Theta (θ) Leonis, mag +3.3 on the evening of Christmas Eve. It lies to the left of the Leo Triplet galaxy group (M65, M66 and NGC 3628) on the evenings of the 27th and 28th.    Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is a very active comet and has gone into outburst on several occasions this year, it is currently mag +9 and it is predicted to peak at mag +4 in April 2024. It is circumpolar in December, so will be visible all night. It starts the month in Lyra and finishes it in Cygnus. It lies below left of Vega (Alphae (α) Lyrae, mag +0.0) on the evenings of the 6th and 7th. It lies to the left of Theta (θ) Lyrae, mag +4.3 on the evenings of the 23rd and 24th.   Finder charts and further information about the above and other fainter comets can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section. 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. “If you want to have a safe gamble, bet on a horse - not a comet”, Dr Fred Whipple. 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 22nd 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 McKeownInformation Sources and LinksSky at Night Magazine Observing Guide – All RounderStardust Magazine – All RounderPhilip's Stargazing 2023 – All RounderCollins 2023 Guide to the Night Sky – All RounderYearbook of Astronomy 2023 – All Rounder2023 calendar of annual Astronomical events by John Flannery – All RounderSky Safari App – All RounderStellarium App – All Rounder in-the-sky.org/ – All Rounder www.nightskyhunter.com/ - All Rounder www.heavens-above.com – All Rounder www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/ - All Rounder www.irishastronomy.org  - Irish Federation of Astronomy Societies Website and Calendar – All Rounder irishastro.org.uk/ - Irish Astronomical Association website – All Rounder www.eaas.co.uk  - Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society – All Rounder eco.mtk.nao.ac.jp/cgi-bin/koyomi/cande/phenomena_en.cgi – Sun/Planets/Moon Only cal2023.pdf (imo.net) - International Meteor Organisation 2023 Meteor Shower Calendar www.cobs.si – Comet Observation Database www.aerith.net – Comets Only www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ - Comets Only astro.vanbuitenen.nl – Comets Only theskylive.com/ - Comets/Asteroids messier.seds.org/ - The Messier Catalogue website – Deep Sky Only www.spaceweather.com – Aurorae Forecasts/Naked Eye Atmospherics astro.ukho.gov.uk/eclbin/query_eo.cgi - Eclipses Appendix

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 full moon’s width when viewed from the Earth is 30 arc minutes or ½ a degree. This should give an idea for judging any distances quoted in the guide.

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. A conjunction is when two objects appear to be close to each other in the sky according to the perspective of the observer. 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 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 above pictorial guide should hopefully help in this.

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. 
 
The following user(s) said Thank You: michael_murphy, flt158, Fermidox, Until_then-Goodnight!, Neil40

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2 months 3 weeks ago #112163 by Neill
Replied by Neill on topic December 2023 Observing Guide
Guide posted, but again apologies for the format. Unable to edit etc.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Until_then-Goodnight!

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