Astronomical Events for December 2006


This December we have a couple of interesting events: conjunction of Moon and Saturn, and just a day after of Mercury, Mars and Jupiter. The bright Orion sparkles again in the evening sky, and like celestial compass points to other constellations and their jewels. While we embark into the winter season the faithful Keeper of the Rings is back...

Are you interested?

December brings us winter season, and this year winter begins on Dec 22, at 00:22 UT. Although the temperatures, especially evening ones, will become less then inviting, the beauty of night sky will bring many amateur astronomers under the celestial dome.

Every December, starting early in the evening, arrives Orion constellation. Orion is definitively one of the key constellations of the winter sky. It is easily recognizable, thus you'll use it until the end of March to find other constellations, and while doing so, you'll glimpse a number of interesting objects too.

Orion's belt, made from start Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka is often neglected in various astronomical catalogs because it's too big to fit inside field of view of a telescope, but if you take simple binoculars you'll see that those stars make open star cluster. You can resolve around hundred other stars, and between stars Mintaka and Alnilam there is a shape of a letter S.

Right below Orion's belt, almost perpendicular to it, lies Orion's sword, also made from three little stars. In the middle of the sword there is Orion's nebula, favourite deep sky object among many amateur astronomers. Although the nebula can be seen even with the naked eye, given the right conditions, from the urban sites you'll benefit if you use binoculars or telescope.

This December slowly returns our bright Saturn. You'll easily recognize it on December 9. around 23 hours, just bellow Moon. It'll look like the brightest "star" in the sky. With just binoculars you can see a little bulge where his rings lie, but you'll have to hold binoculars steady (by putting it on something solid). Those who use telescope will definitively have higher prospects. Wait for a few days, and the glow of Moon will not be an obstacle anymore.

If you're willing, just next morning, around 07:30, in the southeast, just before the rising of the Sun, you can see conjunction of the three planets: Mercury, Mars and Jupiter. You can easily recognize them, because other stars will fade away in the morning light.

Every year, around the middle of December, we have meteor shower of Geminids. Geminids are quite popular meteor shower to many star gazers because they are very bright, and you can expect around hundred falling stars per hour. This year the best time to see them is in the night of December 13th. Moon will not rise until early morning, around 02:45 UT. The Twins (Gemini) constellation is just above Orion, but given that this is their radiant, it is best to expects Geminids in neighboring constellations. The ideal spot to look them for is zenith (straight above you).

The rest of December you can spend looking at Andromeda galaxy which in the evening hours is positioned in your zenith. As the brightest galaxy, in very good conditions, you can spot it with the naked eye. If you're observing from urban areas, I'd recommend binoculars, and afterwards a telescope. When observing galaxies always try to do it while the Moon is still at the crescent stage (New Moon).

On the Moon front, here are main phases:

  • Full Moon - December 5. 01:25 UT
  • Last Quarter - December 12. 15:32 UT
  • New Moon - December 20. 15:01 UT
  • First Quarter - December 27. 15:48 UT