Skywatch: Mars lights up in early December and the Geminids peak in the middle of the month


December skies offer the casual sky watcher planetary joy and shooting-star delights.

Landnearby planet Mars becomes bright due to proximity, but planet reaches opposition 8.

Our reddish neighbor comes within about 50 million miles of Earth on December 12. 1, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and a week later on December 12. 8, Mars will be opposite the Sun from our earthly perspective, according to the United States Naval Observatory. Think of the opposition as a “Full Mars.” Essentially, this means Mars will be bright and gorgeous at around -1.9 magnitude in early December.

Mars rises in the east, while the sun is setting in the west – and you can find it lingering near the constellation’s horns Bull the bull.

While Mars opposition officially happens on Dec. 12 8, you will see the Red Planet quite close to the moon on the evening of December 7. The western US will see the full moon occult (block) Mars. The DC area will see Mars appearing to hang close to the moon.

Later in December, our favorite red planet loses some brightness, dimming to -1.4 magnitude (bright) by the end of the month, according to the observatory.

on Dec. 1, finds the first quarter moon huddled nearby Jupiterwhich seems to come out in the constellation Fish in the southeast sky after sunset. The large gas planet is magnitude -2.6, very bright. Catch Jupiter all month. The fattening moon also approaches Jupiter on December 12. 28, passing the planet by 28 December. 29.

As the sky darkens after sunset, find Saturn in the south-southwest is preparing to set. The ringed planet is located in the constellation Capricorn at +0.7 magnitude, somewhat dim in urban conditions.

By mid-December, catch playful friends Mercury And Venus in the southwestern sky as dusk turns to night. They are very low on the horizon. Fleet Mercury will be harder to see at magnitude -0.6 (bright), but Venus will be brilliant at magnitude -3.9 (exceptionally bright). Venus has been hiding near the sun since October and will rise in the evening sky in January.

The Geminids meteor shower peak December 13-14, and astronomers estimate 150 per hour well into the evening, according to the American Meteor Society ( You won’t see them all, but if the skies are clear and you avoid the streetlights, you can catch quite a few. A waning gibbous moon rises before 10pm and could wipe out some meteors.

Autumn gives way to winter, like December solstice inaugurates the change of season in December. 21, according to the observatory. On that date, Washington officially receives 9 hours and 26 minutes of daylight, according to the observatory, making it what it calls the shortest day of the year. We will see a little more sunlight the following day.

* Dec. 2 — “The Latest on the Great Dinosaur Extinction,” a lecture by Sean Gulick, a research professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He discovers how an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs. Hosted by PSW Science. 8:00 pm, Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW in DC Information:

* Dec. 4 — View starry late fall skies through telescopes provided by members of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC). At the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia. (GPS: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway.) Meet at the museum bus park, 5-7 p.m. Information:

* Dec. 10 — The latest discoveries of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Chile) and the James Webb Space Telescope, speech by astrophysicist Joe Pesce of the National Science Foundation. At the ordinary meeting (online only) of the Astronomers of the National Capital. 7:30pm To access, visit:

* Dec. 11 — “Tick, Tick, Tick: Pulsating Star, How We Wonder What You Are,” a lecture by astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first radio pulsar in 1967. While Burnell will deliver a virtual lecture, members and guests are Welcome in person to the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club meeting, Room 3301, Exploratory Hall, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. 1.30pm-3.30pm Info:

* Dec. 16 — “Back to the Moon to Stay: Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium,” a lecture by planetary geologist Brett Denevi and physicist Wesley Fuhrman, both of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Hosted by PSW Science. 8:00 pm, Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW in DC Information:

* Dec. 17 — “Astronomy for Everyone” at Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County, Virginia with members of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club to guide you through the sky. 4:30-7:30 pm GPS: 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, Virginia, 20144. Info: Park fee: $10.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: