There’s a lot going on in the night sky in December, from the spectacular Geminid meteor shower to the brightest Venus. Here are some of the most impressive ones in December Stargazing highlights to mark on your calendar.
Venus will be brightest on December 3rd
Venus is the planet of the month for December! As an iconoclast and high-flyer, Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system (sorry, Mercury) and the only one that rotates clockwise. Venus will make its brightest appearance in 2021 (or “greatest illumination,”According to astronomers) on December 3rd. Look west just after sunset and you should see crescent Venus, although you may need binoculars to really check it out. Due to urgent business in other parts of the universe, Venus will disappear from the sky on January 9th.
Antarctica gets a total solar eclipse on December 4th
Our readers in West Antarctica and sailors in the Ross Sea can observe a total solar eclipse on December 4th, while sky watchers in the rest of Antarctica, South Africa, Tasmania and the South Atlantic have a partial solar eclipse. For the rest of us, the moon is new (i.e. not visible) so the tides will be higher all over the world. Go surfing, baby.
You can (probably) see Comet Leonard on Dec. 9
If you’ve been dying to check out a comet, may I suggest Comet Leonard? The mornings around Dec. 9 between 3:30 a.m. and dawn are prime viewing hours to see Comet C/2021 A1, also known as “Leonard.” According to Space.com, it will be “a third of the height of the eastern sky, near the circle of stars that forms the head of Serpens Caput (the serpent’s head)”. You may need binoculars to see it, and it may not be there at all (comets are hard to predict), but it’s worth a try. What are you still doing during this time? Sleep?
The Geminids meteor shower peaks on December 14th
The Geminid meteor shower is the breathtaking celestial event in December 2021. It takes place between November 19th and December 24th, but its absolute climax is expected on December 14th. In the hours in between, you should be able to see tons of meteors between sunset on Monday the 14th and sunrise on the 15th. By around 2 a.m., up to 120 meteors per minute can be visible. They will be all over the sky but seem to shine right above the stars of Castor and Pollux. These meteors would be even more spectacular without the moon messing up the reflected sunlight, but if you wait for it to set around 3 a.m., more falling stars should be visible.
You can spy on Copernicus Crater on December 18th
The Copernicus lunar crater can be seen with binoculars anytime you can see the moon, but if you really want to go in depth, look inside a telescope on December 18 to be able to see the terraced edges of Copernicus, its central summit and to see its extensive ejecta outside the crater rim. Copernicus is located slightly northwest of the center of the moon’s earth-side hemisphere.
The “cold moon” comes on December 19th
Don’t miss the cold full moon on December 19th: Here’s everything you could ever want to know about it.
Curl up for the winter solstice on December 21st
December 21st is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The sun is lowest at noon and the darkness lasts longer than any other day of the year. Winter solstice is the best day for vampires who have a lot to do. The exact time of the solstice – when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky and winter begins – is 3:59 p.m. Universal Time. How to translate world time into your local time.
See little baby Ursiden’s meteor shower peak on December 22nd
This brief meteor shower is caused by debris dropped by Comet 8P / Tuttle and is visible between December 13th and 24th, but is expected to peak in the early hours of the 22nd. After the moon sets around midnight, you should be able to see five to ten meteors an hour in the sky. They could come from anywhere, but they probably seem to shine from above the Little Dipper.
See the poinsettia on December 25th (duh)
If you look out the window after midnight on December 25th, you should see Sirius, the brightest night star, in the southern sky. Sirius, sometimes called the “dog star,” is a sparkling blue and white ball of fire located just 8.6 light years from Earth. It is probably not the Star of Bethlehem that the three wise men followed to Bethlehem from the east – you really can’t follow a star everywhere – but it’s still a cool star to see on Christmas night (and other nights).