We close 2021, which was a great year for Sky-Watchers filled with many observing treats in our night skies, with a December filled with planets, meteors, and maybe, a bright comet. Venus will peak in maximum brightness just after sunset, and the annual GEMINID meteor shower will peak on December 14th. And it is possible that a comet will reach unaided eye visibility in mid-December!
Venus will be the first planet to appear, low in the south-western sky. On December 4th it will be so bright that we will be able to see it even in bright twilight after sunset. The slim waxing crescent Moon will be very close to Venus on December 16th.
Comet C/2021/A1 (Leonard) MIGHT be visible on December 15th to the 17th, just below Venus, and it may be visible without optical aid. But scan the area below Venus with binoculars first to find it. Comets are small masses of the same materials that make up planets that travel in elongated orbits around the Sun. From time to time comets may become visible to us as their orbits bring them closer to the Sun, and therefore, closer to us. They grow in brightness due to reflected light from the Sun, producing no light of their own. They are cold objects. And as they break up due to the Sun’s heat and energy, they will sport streaming tails. It will be worth while for us to look for this comet especially since it may approach naked eye brightness. It will be around for about a week before it dips below the western horizon.
Saturn will be found to the left (east) of Venus, still among the stars of Capricornus. It is bright but much, much dimmer than Venus. The Moon will be below Saturn on December 7th. Jupiter is left (east) of Saturn and still quite bright. The waxing Moon stands below Jupiter on December 8th and Jupiter will be seen to the right (west) of the Moon on the 9th. Both Saturn and Jupiter will be setting by 9 pm at the end of December so look for them before that.
The annual Geminind meteor shower will peak in the early morning hours of December 14th looking west. The Moon will interfere with seeing the meteors until it sets at 3 a.m. local time, so plan on looking from 4 a.m. until dawn. Geminids may produce up to 120 meteors per hour on some occasions.
Our annual Planetarium Christmas Program returns this month to the Kent County High School at 7:00 p.m. on December 16th, and 17th; and again on December 20th, 21st, and 22nd. This year’s title, CHRISTMAS SIGNS AND TRUTHS, explores the truth about some familiar Christmas traditions, while telling the usual Christmas story, and blending in a good dose of astronomical stars and treats. We invite our community to come out and see what will be our 34th Xmas program —- highlighting the work of our Kent County High School astronomy and radio station students —- and accepting it as our holiday gift to everyone. Add it to your own annual Christmas tradition!
May God bless all of you —- Sky-Watchers —— one and all!!!! Merry Christmas!!!!