Thursday, December 3, 2009

Busy month for planets

December will be action packed with planets this year.

At the beginning of the evening now, Jupiter is still the star of the show, but each night it is getting lower and lower into the haze in the southwest setting by 10pm.

Have you all spied Mercury? If not this is a great month to catch this elusive planet. It is now visible in the southwest, right after sunset at magnitude -0.5. It will be at its max brightness of -.06 by next Friday. A week later on the 18th it will make a pretty pairing with the new moon just in time for Rosh Chodesh. A week later it will begin its quick plunge back toward the sun disappearing by years end.

Mars is already magnitude 0 and still brightening and getting larger. By 10pm it is already up and getting higher each night. In a small scope you should be able to see the norther ice cap!

You have to be up pretty late to catch Saturn as it only rises around 1:30am. But by by the end of the month it will be up by 11:30. It is recovering from the ring crossing earlier this year and they are now getting wider again.

Venus, is still visible in the dawn sky, but is getting closer and closer to the sun till it disapears by month end. It will reappear in the evening sky, after a hiatus of about a year, by the end of January just in time to switch off with Jupiter as the evening star.

Have any of you ever bagged Neptune? I don't think I have even ever tried, but if you have a decent scope this month is the month to try. It is actually very close to Jupiter, and they will be onlu .6 degrees apart (about the size of the (Moon) for a few days around the 21st.

Oh and by the way, this month we also get a Blue Moon. This is when we have 2 full moons in one calendar month. The first one was last night, and the 2nd one will be on the last day of the month (and year) It of course has no astronomical significants, but you get to use the "once in a blue moon" adage.

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