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December 2022 Observing Guide

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December 2022 Observing Guide was created by Neill

Hi all,

PLEASE NOTE THE BELOW SUMMARY AND GUIDE IS FOR AN APPROXIMATE LATITUDE OF 55 DEGREES NORTH 

Mars is at opposition this month (8th) which means it is best placed for observation and is visible all night. The previous opposition was October 2020 and the next one is not until January 2025. Mars has a distinct red colour. On the morning of the 8th, there is a rare astronomical event when Mars disappears behind the moon for a short time from our point of view on Earth. There is called a lunar occultation, Mars will disappear behind the full moon from around 4:40am and reappear from around 5:40am. No optical aids needed, naked eye event. 

We also have the Geminid Meteor Shower which peaks during daylight hours on the 14th. You can see meteors from 6pm on the evenings of the 13th and 14th. A bright waning gibbous moon is around to partially spoil the show. However there is a pre moonrise window for observing on both nights with moonrise at 9pm on the 13th and 10:15pm on the 14th. So you may still see a few Geminids. No optical aids needed, naked eye event. You will see more meteors if you can get to a dark sky area away from streets lights etc, weather permitting of course! 

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

Conjunction 

29th pm Mercury lies 1.4 degrees to the NW of Venus just after sunset (16:00), a VERY flat SW horizon needed. 

Regular Stuff 

Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on the 21st and is visible in the post sunset sky from the 2nd week of the month. It will be very close to the horizon as a heads up. By month’s end it sets at 17:15 and is mag +1.1 in Sagittarius.

Venus becomes visible in the post sunset sky this month but again like Mercury it will be very close to the horizon. By month’s end it sets at 17:20 and is mag -3.8 in Sagittarius.  

Mars is at opposition on the 8th and is visible in the evening sky during the month in Taurus. It rises at 16:10 at the start of the month and during daylight hours by month’s end. It fades during the month from mag -1.8 to mag -1.2.

Jupiter is at eastern quadrature on the 22nd and is visible in the evening sky during the month in Pisces. It sets at 01:30 at the start of the month and at 23:40 by month’s end. It fades during the month from mag -2.4 to mag -2.2. 

Saturn is visible in the evening sky during the month in Capricornus. It sets at 21:30 at the start of the month and at 19:50 by month’s end. It maintains its brightness at mag +0.8 during the month.

Uranus is visible in the evening sky during the month in Aries. It lies W of Botein (Delta (δ) Arietis, mag +4.3). It sets at 06:10 at the start of the month and at 04:10 by month’s end. It fades from mag +5.6 to mag +5.7 during the month.

Neptune is at eastern quadrature on the 14th and is visible in the evening sky during the month in Aquarius. It sets at 00:55 at the start of the month and at 22:50 by month’s end.  It maintains its brightness at mag +7.9 during the month. It lies S of the Circlet Asterism. 

The Moon

The full moon is on the 8th (04:08) with the last quarter moon on the 16th (08:56). The new moon is on the 23rd (10:17). The first quarter moon is on the 30th (01:20). 

Occultations 

5th pm the 94% waxing gibbous will occult Uranus. The planet will disappear behind the moon from around 16:50 and reappear from around 17:10. 

8th am the full moon will occult Mars. The planet will disappear behind the moon from around 04:40 and reappear from around 05:40.

Regular Stuff

1st pm the 62% waxing gibbous lies SW of Jupiter and SE of Neptune at 18:00.
2nd pm the 73% waxing gibbous lies SE of Jupiter at 18:00.
5th pm the 94% waxing gibbous lies SE of Uranus at 18:00.
6th pm the 98% waxing gibbous lies SW of M45 – The Pleiades at 18:00.
7th pm the near full moon lies NE of Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9) and NW of Mars at 18:00.
8th pm the just past full moon lies SE of Mars at 18:00.
13th pm the 72% waning gibbous lies N of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at 23:00.
14th pm the 63% waning gibbous lies SE of Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4) at 23:00.
18th am the 32% waning crescent lies N of Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +0.9) at 04:00.
19th am the 22% waning crescent lies SE of Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +0.9) at 04:00.
26th pm the 16% waxing crescent lies SE of Saturn at 18:00.
28th pm the 36% waxing crescent lies S of Neptune at 18:00.
29th pm the 47% waxing crescent lies SE of Jupiter at 18:00.

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 13:00 on the 14th with a ZHR of 150. The radiant is visible from 18:00 on the evenings of the 13th and 14th. Unfortunately there is a bright waning gibbous moon around to partially spoil the show. There is a pre moonrise window for observing on both nights with moonrise at 21:00 on the 13th and 22:15 on the 14th. 

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 (349) Dembowska is at opposition on the evening of the 1st in Taurus and is mag +9.7. It is visible as soon as darkness falls on the 1st. 

Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found in the below Information Sources and Links Section.

Comets

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is currently mag +9 and is predicted to peak at mag +5 in February. During the month, it moves from Serpens to Corona Borealis. During the month it is visible in both in the morning and evening skies. At the start of the month, it rises at 03:00 and sets at 20:00. By mid-month, it rises at 02:00 and sets at 19:00. By month’s end, it rises at Midnight and sets at 19:00. 

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 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

Information Sources and Links

Sky at Night Magazine Observing Guide – All Rounder
Stardust Magazine – All Rounder
in-the-sky.org/– All Rounder
www.nightskyhunter.com/ - All Rounder
Philip's Stargazing 2022 – All Rounder
Collins 2022 Guide to the Night Sky – All Rounder
Night Sky Almanac: A Stargazers Guide to 2022 – All Rounder
Yearbook of Astronomy 2022 – All Rounder
www.heavens-above.com – All Rounder
Sky Safari App – All Rounder
Stellarium App – 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
International Meteor Organisation - www.imo.net/files/meteor-shower/cal2022.pdf - Meteors Only
britastro.org/computing/charts_asteroid.html – Asteroids Only
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 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, Until_then-Goodnight!
Last edit: 4 days 10 hours ago by Neill.
4 days 11 hours ago #111616

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