Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lots more December astronomy

So the Geminids came and went away again (we've almost cleared the dust trail) and we were all able to see a beautiful winter meteor shower. That is unless you had weather conditions like here where I live.
We had a thick cloud cover, lots of snow on the ground and massive light pollution from the city. So all I could see was a (rather strong) yellowish sky instead of all the meteors.

This picture shows our weather today as I drove 300km to attend a meeting. That is why astronomy during the winter can be quite disappointing.

But winter astronomy can be equally rewarding though, due to the often very clear and dry skies in the winter. If you go outside during the evening now you'll see a planet, that I've mentioned before, very clearly in the sky; Jupiter. It's now 21:49 and it can bee seen roughly to the south west, but just go find the Moon and then look further ahead in its path (towards the west) and you'll find Jupiter.

But that isn't all December has to offer, you'll be able to see many more planets the following couple of weeks (bear in mind that the sun rises about half past 8 in the morning):
If you get up early (before the Sun rises) you can see Venus to the east and fairly high in the sky, but rather weak. I haven't been able to see it though, but I don't have access to the eastern sky from were I live or work (nor have I really looked for it). Venus rises at about 4:30 in the morning.
Later in December (around the 21st) Mercury also moves ahead of the Sun in its orbit (as seen from Earth) and it will be visible low in the sky, near the horizon, before sun rise.
Saturn is also visible (and very bright) in the morning sky. Saturn rises very early (around 2 in the morning) and can be seen easily until sun rise. At 8 in the morning it is pretty much directly to the south. Just look up, you can't miss it.
I managed to snap this picture of Saturn with my mobile as I drove to work.

Venus should be somewhere below and to the left of Saturn, roughly a third of the sky down (if you use a proper camera/telescope and not a mobile phone).

The Moon
Last, but definitely not least, December can offer a real lunar eclipse during the full moon on December 21st. The eclipse occurs as the Moon is setting (when you watch it in Denmark) and the eclipse will be total at 8:40. The Moon sets between 8:46 (in Copenhagen) and 9:01 (in Esbjerg) so you have to be lucky (and have a clear view of the north-western sky) to see it.
Get up high and look to the west on Tuesday morning anywhere between 7:30 and 8:40 and you'll be able to see the Moon being eclipsed by the Earth's shadow (and possibly turning red).

I'll make a post about it during the weekend with pictures and explanations, but clear your morning schedule on Tuesday if possible.