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Star Trak: December 2020

For immediate release: December 1, 2020

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Jupiter and Saturn will both appear in the same field of view of a telescope in December. The giant planets will be less than 1 degree apart for most of the month, their closest viewable pairing in nearly 800 years.

The month will begin with yellow Saturn about 2 degrees to the upper left (south) of brilliant white Jupiter in the southwestern sky soon after sunset. The gap between them will shrink until Dec. 21, when they will appear separated by a mere 0.1 degree. The two planets will set more than three hours after the sun as December begins and less than two hours after sunset by month's end.

Gleaming white Venus will rise soon after 5 a.m. local time at the start of the month. An hour later it will be 10 degrees high in the southeastern sky. By month's end it will rise just 90 minutes before the sun.

Mars will fade during December as Earth rapidly leaves it behind. The Red Planet will be visible nearly all night as the month begins, already 30 degrees high in the southeast at sunset. It will be highest in the south around 9 p.m. local time and will set at 3 a.m. At month's end these events will happen an hour earlier.

Mercury will be too low to pick out of the solar glare all month.

Meteor shower

The Geminid meteor shower will be active between Dec. 4 and 17, peaking on the night of Dec. 13-14 when moonlight will not interfere. In a clear sky the maximum rate could be as many as 100 meteors per hour if faint meteors are included. Skywatchers will see many bright meteors per hour, but the rate for those will be much lower. The "shooting stars" will seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini, which will be nearly overhead by 1 a.m. for North American viewers. The best display will be between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Solstice

The sun will reach the December solstice on Dec. 21 at 5:02 a.m. EST (9:02 Universal Time), marking the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere the days will be getting longer.

MoonCool Moon Image
Photo Credit: NASA

Moon

The moon will be at third quarter on Dec. 7, new on Dec. 14, at first quarter on Dec. 21 and full on Dec. 29.

Author: Hal Kibbey Email: hkibbey [at] gmail.com

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