The Sky Above You – December 2019
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on December 12th, New on December 26th. It will pass near the Hyades Open Cluster in Taurus on December 10th and 11th. At the December New Moon there will be an annular solar eclipse, in which the Moon’s shadow will cross from the Arabian peninsula to Indonesia, with a partial eclipse over much of southern Asia.
The planet Mercury is in the morning sky after greatest elongation on November 28th, rising about 5.45 a.m. at the beginning of the month, and disappears by the middle of December after passing Mars. Shortly before that, in mid-December Mercury and Mars will be nearly in line with Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, above both of them to the right.
Venus is low in the evening sky, much brighter in December, setting about 6 p.m. with Saturn, much fainter, above and to the left, and Jupiter below. Venus is near the Moon again on December 28/29th.
Mars in Virgo rises about 5 a.m. in December, passing the double star Zubelgenubi on December 12th. The Moon appears near Mars on December 23rd, and Mars will be rising two and a half hours before the Sun by the end of the month.
Jupiter in Ophiucus disappears from view in mid-December, reaching conjunction with the Sun on December 27th.
Saturn in Sagittarius sets about 6 p.m. in December, passed by Venus on December 10/11th. The Moon is near Saturn on December 28th and 29th.
Uranus in Aries sets about 4.30 a.m..
Neptune in Aquarius sets at about 11 p.m. in December.
The Geminid meteor shower from the asteroid Phaeton (the only ones not to originate from a comet) peak on December 13/15th, but will be spoiled by moonlight this year.
There will not be a meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club in Troon on the last Thursday of December, however there is usually a social meeting mid-month. For more information contact Alan Martin on 07947 331632.
Duncan Lunan’s new book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers; details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
About this Column
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018. It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.