Monday, December 13, 2010

Meteor Shower and Solstice Eclipse Highlight December Night Skies

Patrick Wiggins, NASA Solar System Ambassador to Utah, shares some December highlights to the night skies including the Geminid Meteor Shower tonight and a Lunar Eclipse on the Solstice.

December 13-14 Geminid Meteor shower. Some meteors may be visible before midnight on the 13th but the peak is predicted for about 4 a.m. MST on the 14th. Naked eye event only. Telescopes and binoculars restrict how much of the sky the observer can see. So bundle up, enjoy some warm drinks and just lay back and look up. Those observing in the country away from light polluted urban skies may see as many as 2 Geminid meteors per minute. Considerably less if observing from in the city.

December 18 Moon spends the night drifting next to the Pleiades (plea'-ah-deez) star cluster. Also known as the Seven Sisters. The Japanese call it Subaru which is why a stylized representation of the cluster is used as the Subaru Motor Company's logo.

December 20-21 Highlight of the month, a total eclipse of the Moon. Partial eclipse begins at 11:33 p.m. MST when the darkest portion of Earth's shadow starts to cover the Moon's face. The Moon will be high in the SE sky at that time. Total eclipse begins at 12:41 a.m. and ends at 1:53 a.m. all the while very high in the S to SW. Partial eclipse ends at 3:01 a.m. with the Moon a bit over half way up the western sky. This will be the first total eclipse of the Moon visible from Utah since February 2008. The next total lunar eclipse to grace Utah's skies is set for next December (2011). Since this is not an eclipse of the Sun no special eye protection will be needed to view the eclipse. If there's to be only one clear night all month, let this be it.

December 21 December solstice. 4:38 p.m. MST. Official start of winter in the northern hemisphere, official start of summer for those "down under". Sun is as far south as it's going to get this year. No doubt many will throng to the U.K.'s Stonehenge. But will any brave the journey to "Utah's Stonehenge" (aka Sun Tunnels)  . :)

December 26 Month's best pass of the International Space Station. Rises in the SW about 6:25 p.m. High overhead at 6:28. Passes into the shadow of the Earth and fades from view half way up the NE about 6:29. Very easy to see with just the naked eye, even in the city, as a bright "star" moving slowly across the sky.

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