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Sky Report - December 2012

Jupiter Brightest, Planet Dawn Display, Geminid Meteors, Winter Starts, and Moonlit Year's End

Sights Seen All Through December - After hugging the northern evening horizon the last two months, the Big Dipper's scoop is again seen low in the North Northeast. The two top scoop stars point up and left to the North Star, a modest star about half way up in the North. Still high in the North is Cassiopeia, appearing as a flattened letter 'M'. Low in the Northwest is the Northern Cross, actually Cygnus, the Swan diving into the ground. The star group Orion with his three star belt is striking in the Southeast. Above Orion and to the right is the very bright planet Jupiter. Orion's three star belt points left and down to Sirius, the night's brightest star.

Early December Sights - On the evening of December 2nd, the planet Jupiter is closest and brightest, rising as the sun sets and hanging in the sky all night long. Jupiter is then 378.5 million miles away; light then takes nearly 34 minutes to travel from Jupiter's cloud tops to the Earth. The moon will appear half full (like a reversed 'D') in the southern dawn sky on December 6th. The crescent moon will appear near the planet Saturn in the southeastern dawn sky on December 10th. The planet Mercury is at its greatest angle to the sun low in the southeastern dawn. Above and to the right of Mercury is the brilliant planet Venus. The two planets will be visited by the crescent moon on December 11th in the southeastern dawn sky.

Mid December Sights - The Geminid meteor shower is best seen during the morning hours of December 13th. A meteor shower usually occurs when the Earth crosses the orbit of a comet. But for the Geminids, the originating object is the asteroid Phaethon whose orbit crosses Earth. The meteors in this shower can be traced back to the star group Gemini, above and to the East of Orion. This shower is very good this year as the moon will then be close to the sun and out of sight. On December 19th, the evening moon appears half full, like a tilted 'D'.

Late December Sights - On December 21st, the sun's direct rays reach farthest South and winter begins. On this day, the sun rises farthest south of East and sets farthest South of West. We have the year's shortest period of daylight, lasting 9 hours and 20 minutes locally. On December 25th, the moon, Jupiter and the bright star Aldebaran appear within a circle of 5 degrees width in the southeastern evening sky. The moon grows to full on the morning of December 28th. So there will be a bright moon in the late evening sky through the end of the year.

Our Science Sunday presentation will be "Mammals of the Middle East", being shown in Compton 224. These presentations will be shown on December 2, December 9 and December 16. Call (301) 687-7799 to request our 2013 Presentation schedule. The new Frostburg State Planetarium (called the MLC) will be opening in early 2014.

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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