The Sky Above You – December 2017
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on December 3rd. It will be New on December 18th. December’s Full Moon will be the biggest and brightest of the year, but will be surpassed by a ‘supermoon’ in January. As it rises on 8th December the Moon will be occulting Regulus in Leo, which will become visible again around 10.15 p.m.. On 30th December the Moon passes through the Hyades cluster in Leo, occulting Aldebaran around 1 a.m. on the 31st.
The planet Mercury moves to the morning sky in late December and is visible before 7 a.m. towards the end of the year, below and to the left of Mars and Jupiter on the 31st.
Venus rises an hour before the Sun in early December, then disappears into the dawn.
Mars moves on from Virgo into Libra, and the Moon is near Mars on 13th December.
Jupiter in Virgo rises at 4.30 a.m. in December, approaching Mars near the end of the year. The Moon appears near Jupiter on 14th and 15th December. NASA’s Juno mission over the poles of Jupiter has been extended to mid-2018 at least, possibly to 2021.
Saturn is in Ophiucus has disappeared behind the Sun by December.
Uranus in Pisces sets at 2.30 p.m. in December.
Neptune in Aquarius sets at 10.30 p.m. in December.
There’s a chance to see meteors on the nights of 13th to 14th December, when the peak of the Geminid shower will be clear of moonlight. The asteroid Phaeton, the source of the Geminids, will pass the Earth at 10.4 million km on the night of the 16th and will be observable with larger telescopes as a moving 11th-magnitude object, to the left of Alpheratz in Andromeda. The lesser Ursid meteor shower will also be clear of moonlight on the night of the 22nd/23rd.
Geminids are the only known meteor shower to emanate from an asteroid rather than a comet, but now that the largest of the asteroids, Ceres, is known to have had an ocean and still to have large amounts of water in its crust, the distinction is becoming more blurred. The mysterious bright spots on Ceres discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope have turned out to be salts deposited by water outbreaks, and NASA’s Dawn probe will remain in orbit there in hopes to observe them when Ceres is nearest to the Sun.
As in previous years there will be no meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club on the last Thursday of December, but there will be a social meeting mid-month, details to be announced.
Duncan Lunan’s collection of time-travel stories, “The Elements of Time”, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is available from the publishers at www.shorelineofinfinity.com. Duncan’s recent books “Children from the Sky”, “The Stones and the Stars” and “Incoming Asteroid! What Could We Do About It?” are available on Amazon or through booksellers; more details are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
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 flier 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 since the first issue in March 2003. It appeared monthly online in Cosmic Aspects and continues to appear monthly in the Ayrshire Post.
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 40o North. 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 of JHC have by now built up a complete set of twelve.
Duncan recording The Sky Above You programs for the Falkland Island’s TV