December night sky

Last updated 14:51 09/12/2011

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Night Sky

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Sun: The Summer solstice falls on the 22nd, marking the Sun's most southerly position in the sky, and our longest day.

Moon: First Quarter is on the 2nd with Full Moon on the 11th. Last Quarter falls on the 18th and New Moon follows on Christmas Day. This month's Full Moon brings us a total eclipse, starting around 12.30am on the 11th and finishing around 5.30am. The darkest period will be between 3 and 4 am.

Meteors: The Geminids shower, from the 7th to the 17th, is often rewarding.

Look to the right of Orion, towards the bright star Castor, after 1am.

This year, moonlight is likely to interfere with any sightings.

Planets:

Mercury becomes a morning star after the 4th. It will be invisible for most of the month.

Venus is easily located in the west, just as twilight begins. It sets around 11pm.

Mars is readily seen in the morning sky. Look for an orange star in the north-east. The planet is within 8 degrees of the Moon on the 18th.

Jupiter continues to dominate the mid-evening sky, and is visible throughout much of the night.

Saturn remains in the morning sky, rising around 3am. It is in the constellation of Virgo and appears close to the bright star, Spica.

Stars and Constellations:

The summer constellation of Orion is low in the eastern sky. A little to its south-east is the brightest star, Sirius, and its associated constellation of Canis Major. The Pleiades lies to the north-east, as does Taurus.

Much of the northern sky looks somewhat empty, with Pegasus just above the north-west horizon.

Directly west, Aquarius and Capricornus are setting.

Our southern sky holds much of interest.

Due south is the Southern Cross and, some distance above it, are the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds. Look to the right of Canopus to find them. The Tarantula Nebulae, in the large cloud, is well worth viewing in a telescope.

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Overhead, Canopus and Achernar are the main stars of note. The long straggling constellation of Eridanus stretches across the zenith.

At this time of the year the Milky Way surrounds the sky on all horizons, running from the north, along the east and south before disappearing almost due west.

* Prepared for The Taranaki Daily News by Tom Whelan, Cape Egmont Observatory.

- Taranaki Daily News

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