Monthly Sky Guide: December 2001
What a fantastic month for skywatchers! The Sun will undergo an annular eclipse on December 14th. The event will be seen best from Costa Rica and parts of Nicaragua, with partial phases over most of North America, all of Central America and northwestern parts of South America. Complete details and live Web coverage at the Eclipse Home Page
WARNING: Never look at the Sun--it will instantly cause irreversible damage to your eyes! For safe viewing, use a small mirror to project the Sun's image onto a nearby wall.
The December Solstice at 19:21 UT on December 21st marks the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Jupiter, in Gemini, remains the brightest planet in the evening sky. It shines brilliantly at magnitude -2.7 reaching opposition on New Year's Eve. On December 2nd and 3rd the Moon will appear nearby making for a lovely spectacle soon after they rise. Look for a repeat performance about 28 days later.
Saturn is the bright yellow-colored object in the constellation Taurus. It easily outshines orange Aldebaran--the brightest star in Taurus. Over the course of the month Saturn will move closer to the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. Also, Saturn's rings are presently tilted near maximum making for a very impressive sight even in a small telescope. In the early hours of December 28th observers in North and Central America can view the Moon pass in front of the ringed planet. Skywatchers elsewhere will see only the pretty pairing of Saturn and the Moon.
Mars lies among the faint stars of Aquarius in the western evening sky. A telescope reveals a small, featureless disk. From the Northern Hemisphere the red planet sets around 10pm (midnight in Southern Hemisphere).
The Geminid Meteor Shower will peak at 4h UT on December 13. This is one of the finest of the annual showers and produces many bright meteors. Expect to see about 30 meteors per hour at maximum from very dark skies.
Comet LINEAR (C/2000 WM1) was discovered last December (12 months ago!) and may just reach naked-eye visibility this month. The comet is well placed in the evening sky making it an easy target for skywatchers (see map). At magnitude 5 the comet should be easy to see in a good pair of binoculars--look for a diffuse or fuzzy object. On January 22nd 2002 Comet LINEAR will reach perihelion--its closest approach to the Sun--by which time it may display a short tail. By then the comet will be so far south that it will be visible only to skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere.
Clear skies until next month!
Download the latest issue of The Evening Sky Map.
Related Books & Products: