December Skies 2021
As the December sky see’s out a 2021 that perhaps many would like to forget, the unchanging constellations give us a sense of continuity. We get to see some of our favourite and most familiar constellations return to the evening sky, such as Orion the hunter and his companions.
One of the sparkling jewels of this group first seen is the delightful Pleiades star cluster.
Best seen in a large pair of binoculars or at low Magnification through a good quality refracting Telescope, this young (circa 100 million y.o) star cluster features in the mythology of many cultures from antiquity to the present day. Usually depicted as Seven beautiful sisters running across the sky to escape the infatuated attention of a man ! Orion is usually the culprit, but we will talk more about him soon.
Commonly called the seven sisters, it takes a keen Eye and a clear, dark sky to see more than 6 of the 1000+ stars in this cluster located “nearby” at just 400 or so light years away.
Following the Seven sisters into the sky is the heart of the constellation where they reside, Taurus. The head of the Bull, known as the bright and obvious Triangle asterism of the “Hyades” features the massive red giant star Aldebaran or the Eye of the bull. When we look at this star we see a Red Giant that is 40 times bigger than our sun & closer to us than the seven sisters at just 60 light years away.
Close behind the the bull (and hunting him) is our afore mentioned & infatuated hunter/god, Orion.
Next to the southern cross, Orion is perhaps the best know constellation in Australia & NZ thanks to the “Asterism” of the Saucepan!
The handle of that saucepan is Orion’s Sword & the middle star of that Sword is the stunning Orion Nebula, one of the biggest in apparent size and brightness. So much so that even binoculars will reveal otherwise hidden details.
This December is better than last year for planets with Jupiter & Saturn continuing to be bright and obvious in the constellation if Capricorn and are always worth a look through almost any telescope.
Venus is now diving towards the horizon in the west and is joined by Mercury as it peeks above the horizon mid month.
If you are really not sure which planet is which, they each take a turn of a close lunar apparition on the 7th (Venus) 8th (Saturn) 9th (Jupiter) in the early evening sky between 7 & 8pm.
Venus and Mercury are closest together on the 18th before Venus dives into the solar glare & fleet footed mercury rises into Capricorn in January.
On the 15th of December there will be a good opportunity to find Uranus at just 1/2 a degree from the moon, even binoculars should reveal this rarely seen delightful blue green world that hovers just below naked eye visibility.
The Geminids Meteor shower is usually the highlight in December on the 13th & 14th with over 120 meteors per hour, and unlike last year when we had a full moon we now have a dark moonless sky.
So look up and to the North East from midnight onwards to the constellation of Gemini “The Twins” for what I hope will be the best Meteor shower of the year !
Early storms are already making their mark across eastern and Northern Australia so we can only hope for a few gaps to see some of these celestial delights.
At NightSkySecrets we wrap up our tours for the year to return again in April when we hope the skies are clear and the land is green.