Night sky December 2012

TOM WHELAN
Last updated 08:59 03/12/2012

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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: Last Quarter is on the 7th with New Moon on the 13th. First Quarter falls on the 20th and Full Moon follows on the 28th.

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 less likely to interfere with any sightings.

Planets:

Mercury is a morning star rising around 5am and should be visible, mid-month, against the twilight.

Venus is easily located in the east just as the dawn sky starts to brighten.

Mars moves a little lower in the north-western sky, setting before 11pm.

Jupiter rises as the Sun sets and is now visible throughout the night. A pair of binoculars, or a small telescope will show the planet's four largest moons.

Saturn remains in the morning sky, but now appears earlier, just as twilight begins.

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.

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.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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