What are the skywatching highlights of December 2023? Clear skies are perfect for viewing the Geminid meteor shower. Grab your binoculars and search for asteroid Vesta.
Vesta and the Geminid meteor are opposites!
The most reliable meteors of the year are here, unaffected by the bright moon. The Geminid meteor shower will reach its peak from the night of the 13th to the morning of the 14th. And if you want to add “asteroid observer” to your list of achievements, try observing Vesta with binoculars or a small telescope.
December skywatching highlights:
- December 7th – December 10th – Watch the moon rise with you every morning for four days. Venus And in the hours before sunrise, the bright star Spica lies in the east.
- December 12th – new moon
- December 13th – The Geminid meteor shower will peak overnight tonight. Observers in the northern hemisphere can spot meteors as early as 9 or 10 p.m., and after midnight they increase in number per hour. Dress warmly, avoid bright lights, and look at as much of the sky as possible. Meteors fall everywhere in the sky.
- December 17th – After sunset, look for the crescent moon in your immediate vicinity. Saturn Located in the southwest. Using binoculars or a small telescope, Saturn’s giant moon Titan may appear as a faint dot right next to Saturn.
- December 21st – Jupiter As darkness falls, a nearly full moon will appear in the southeast. Watch them glide across the sky together all night long.
- December 26th – full moon
- monthly – Asteroid Vesta is at opposition, directly opposite Earth from the sun, meaning it is the brightest and closest to us this year. It would be a good idea to take this opportunity to observe it using binoculars or a small telescope. Look for it to move north in the sky between the constellations Gemini and Orion later this month. Use your favorite stargazing app to pinpoint your exact location on the night you’re observing.
What’s in store for December? The Geminid meteor, the best view of the moon and planet, is gearing up for a spectacular show and a chance to observe the asteroid with your own eyes.
The moon takes turns visiting the bright planets in the sky over the course of a month, starting on four mornings from the 7th to the 10th in early December. At this time, you can see Venus, the crescent moon, and a beautiful collection of bright stars. Southeast star Spica.
And on the 17th, the crescent moon will be visible directly below Saturn in the southwest for the first few hours after sunset. Most binoculars will show both in the same field of view. And, for a challenge, see if you can spot Saturn’s giant moon Titan here as a faint dot right next to Saturn.
Later that week, a nearly full moon will intertwine with Jupiter for two nights on the 21st and 22nd. They will be seen moving toward the southeast in the early hours of the night, and will continue to move westward across the sky together throughout the night.
The Geminid meteor shower, the most reliable meteor shower of the year, occurs every December. The Perseids tend to get a little more attention because they occur in warmer climates in the northern hemisphere, but the Geminids usually produce more meteors. At its peak, you may see a meteor every minute.
The peak of the showers will be the night of December 13th and the morning of the 14th. Viewers in the Northern Hemisphere can spot the meteor as early as 9 or 10 p.m. on the 13th. After that, the hourly number of meteors increases, with the most meteors flashing across the sky between midnight and morning twilight.
Sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere can also see the Geminid meteor shower, but it occurs at midnight and about a quarter as often as in the Northern Hemisphere.
Clear skies will provide ideal conditions for this year’s peak night, just one day after the new moon, with dark skies all night long. The meteors appear to be radiating out from the constellation Gemini, but if you look straight up and see as much of the sky as possible, you’ll see more shooting stars.
Want to see an asteroid for yourself? Asteroid Vesta will reach opposition this month. This means that the asteroid will be located directly opposite the Earth from the Sun. This is also the time when Vesta is closest to Earth, so it is the brightest and easiest to observe.
From time to time, Vesta gets close enough to Earth that it can almost be seen with just the eye. But this year, try looking for them with binoculars or a small telescope.
NASA‘s Dawn spacecraft came very close to Vesta in 2011 and 2012 while orbiting the oval world. The results showed that Vesta formed during the first few million years of the solar system and mapped its surface in detail.
This December, Vesta will be highest overhead around 1 or 2 a.m. (the best time to see it with a telescope), but it can be seen from about 10 p.m., appearing in about half the eastern sky. can.
Find Vesta here between Orion’s raised arm and here Gemini Castor’s legs. On December 1st, Vesta can be found along the line between Betelgeuse and this star Tejat. A week later, Vesta will move and appear here along the line between Betelgiese and Propus. Using old binoculars, he should be able to see Vesta a few finger lengths to the west of the two stars. Use your favorite stargazing app as a guide to Vesta’s location in the starry sky that is visible on any given night.
If you’re hungry for more asteroid exploration, there’s even more on the way. NASA’s Psyche mission recently began its journey to the metal-rich asteroid Psyche, and our Lucy spacecraft just passed the asteroid Dinkinesh along with a small satellite asteroid in early November. Lucy is headed for the Trojan asteroids, a unique family of space rocks that share Jupiter’s orbit and are likely remnants of the same primordial material that formed Jupiter and other exoplanets.
If that sounds interesting, you might be ready to add “asteroid spotter” to your list of accomplishments as you search for Vesta in the December skies.
Here are the phases of the moon in December.