NASA has released its monthly update of advice on what to look out for in the night sky in the coming weeks. Three things stand out for December: Venus, Comet Leonard, and the Geminid meteor shower.
First of all, Venus, the second planet from the sun. After the moon, Venus is the second brightest object in our night sky, making it the easiest feature to spot among this month’s goodies.
NASA recommends monitoring Venus as the moon appears to pass nearby on December 7. Clear skies will also offer a glimpse of Jupiter and Saturn. Check out the image below to see how they’ll be positioned in the night sky over the next few days.
A recently discovered comet called Leonard will make its closest passage to Earth on December 12. NASA says there’s a chance you can spot Comet Leonard with the naked eye, but adds that since the brightness of a passing comet is difficult to predict, having a pair of binoculars handy can help you. will offer the best chance of seeing it.
“During the first two weeks of December, Comet Leonard can be found in the east before sunrise, passing between Arcturus and the Big Dipper Cove,” NASA explained on its website. “It is approaching the horizon just as it comes closest to Earth, which means it will likely be brighter but more difficult to observe.” It then becomes an evening object around December 14, just a little while after sunset, as it begins its long distance outward from the sun again, gradually losing its brightness.
Geminid meteor shower
December marks the return of the Geminid meteor shower where you can watch brilliant streaks of light flash across the dark sky as small particles of asteroid debris burn in Earth’s atmosphere.
This year’s meteor shower is expected to be most active on the night of December 13-14, when you might be lucky enough to catch up to 40 meteors per hour crossing the sky.
NASA notes that the sun will be 80% full by this time, which means its brightness could negatively impact the visibility of the shower. But he adds that since the moon will set around 2 a.m., that leaves early risers a few hours before dawn to make the most of the shower.
âMeteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, which you will find high in the west,â NASA said, adding that although most annual meteor showers are caused by the Earth passing through contrails of dust particles from cometary debris, “the Geminids are one of the few meteor showers caused by debris from an asteroid that passes through Earth’s orbit – in this case, one called the Phaethon.
If you need more help identifying star formations in the night sky so you can more easily identify this month’s goodies, check out these great astronomy apps for iOS and Android.