WHAT’S UP IN THE SKY THIS DECEMBER 2017?

WHAT’S UP IN THE SKY THIS DECEMBER 2017?

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This wonderful year 2017 is about to end soon as nights becoming longer and colder further. With the upcoming holidays, there will be more time to spend chilling out and have bonding moments with family and friends. Wondering what’s going to be up in the sky for the final month of 2017? The following is a list of astronomical events for December 2017. All dates and times were given in UAE Local Time.

December 3, 2017: Full (Super) Moon

Situated on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, the moon will be fully illuminated (100%) on this day. For selenophiles (people who love the moon), this is the best time to observe all the surface features of this celestial object, including the craters and maria. It will start appearing at around 5:45 PM (at the eastern horizon) as it rises, and can be seen throughout the night until sunrise positioned in the constellation of Taurus (the bull). Because of its full illumination during this phase, it will not be a good time for deep-sky observation with the entire moonlight glaring out most of the faint celestial objects.

The Full Moon taken from Al Sadeem Observatory last September 6, 2017

On this day as well, the Moon will be at its perigee (closest distance; specifically around 357,000 km from Earth) making it appear slightly (7%) bigger and (16%) brighter than the usual full Moon. This is the only occurrence of the commonly known as “Supermoon” for this year. Based on Native American tradition, it is termed as the “Full Cold Moon” because it initially appears during the colder and longer winter nights.

Apparent Size Comparison between Normal Full Moon and Supermoon (Image Credit: Bryan Jones, JonesBlog; prometheus.med.utah.edu).

December 13, 2017: Close Approach of the Moon and Mars

The Moon and the red planet Mars would appear close to each other (around 4° angular separation) at the sky when viewed from Earth. This close approach will be visible in the eastern portion of the sky in the constellation of Virgo (the virgin) from around 3:45 AM until sunrise.  The moon will be at the Waning Crescent phase (about 23% illuminated). Mars would look like a faint reddish dot in the sky positioned southeast of the Moon.

Illustration of the Close Approach of the Waning Crescent Moon and Mars on December 13, 2017 (apparent scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 13-14, 2017: Geminid Meteor Shower

The peak of the strong meteor shower known as the Geminids will take place. It is projected to bring up to about 120 multicolored meteors per hour under completely dark, moonless, and cloudless skies. These meteors will seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini (the twins) but can be observed anywhere in the sky from around 10 PM all the way through the dawn of the next day. The space debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon entering Earth are the ones responsible for this meteor shower. The waning crescent moon (about 16% illumination) will ascend much later (at around 3:45 AM) after the radiant, providing less moonlight interference with the meteor shower. A must have in observing this astronomical phenomenon is patience; lots of them and of course, comfort.

The position of Geminids radiant (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 14, 2017: Close Approach of the Moon and Jupiter

The Moon and the bright gas giant Jupiter would appear close to each other (around 4° angular separation) at the sky when viewed from Earth. This close approach will be visible in the eastern portion of the sky in the constellation of Libra (the scales) from around 4:30 AM until sunrise.  The moon will be at the Waning Crescent phase (about 15% illuminated). Jupiter would appear like bright white “star” south of the Moon and Mars (the faint reddish dot).

Illustration of the Close Approach of the Waning Crescent Moon and Jupiter on December 14, 2017 (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 18, 2017: New Moon

On this day, the moon will not be visible as it will be situated on the same side of the Earth as the Sun, in the constellation of Libra (the scales). With no moonlight glaring much of the night sky, this is the best time to observe the deep sky objects throughout the night. It is predicted that the lunar phase will occur on this day. However, the month transition from Rabi al-Awwal to Rabi al-Akhir shall take place two days later (December 20) in accordance with the Hijri Calendar 1439.

December 21, 2017: Winter Solstice

On this day, the Earth’s axis will tilt at a certain maximum extent with respect to the Sun. Specifically, The Earth’s northern (southern) axis will be tilted away (towards) the Sun, resulting to an unequal duration of time, as well as light and heat distribution on the two hemispheres. In particular, shorter daytimes and longer nighttimes will take place in the Northern Hemisphere and the inverse happens in the Southern Hemisphere. This marks the beginning of astronomical winter (weather gets colder) in the Northern Hemisphere and astronomical summer (weather gets hotter) in the Southern Hemisphere. Areas situated on or near the Tropic of Capricorn (about 30° south latitude) will get the most amount of sunshine.

Winter Solstice Diagram (Image Credit: USA Today)

December 21-22, 2017: Ursid Meteor Shower

On the late evening hours of December 21 until the dawn of December 22, 2017, the peak of the minor meteor shower known as the Ursids will take place. It is projected to bring from 5-10 meteors per hour under completely dark, moonless and cloudless skies. These meteors will seem to radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor (the little bear) at the sky’s northern portion but can be observed anywhere in the sky from around midnight all the way through dawn. The space debris from Comet 8P/Tuttle entering Earth are the ones responsible for this meteor shower. Being on its waxing crescent phase which sets earlier in the night, there will be no moon to interfere the spectacular appearance of these meteors in the night sky. A must have in observing this astronomical phenomenon is patience; lots of them and of course, comfort.

The position of Ursids radiant (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

This month, several brilliant prominent winter constellations and deep-sky objects will be seen during night time and early morning hours such as the Great Orion Nebula, the Crab Nebula, and the brilliant open star cluster Pleiades known as the “Seven Sisters” in Taurus. Planet Mars will show up as well at around 4:30 AM while the bright Jupiter at around 5 AM until sunrise. For this month, sunrise occurrences range between 6:49 AM and as late as 7:06 AM while sunsets shall happen between 5:45 PM to as early as 5:33 PM.

Have a pleasant December, everyone! Happy Holidays! Clear Skies!

Pleiades, Andromeda Galaxy, The Great Orion Nebula and Auriga-Taurus-Orion Starfield taken from Al Sadeem Observatory

References

Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2017 . (n.d.). Retrieved from Sea and Sky: www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2017.html

Calendar of Astronomical Events. (n.d.). Retrieved from In-The-Sky.org: http://in-the-sky.org/newscal.php?year=2017&month=7&maxdiff=5

Islamic calendar 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from Calendar.sk: https://calendar.zoznam.sk/islamic_calendar-en.php

Sunrise and sunset times in Abu Dhabi, December 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from timeanddate.com: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/united-arab-emirates/abu-dhabi?month=12&year=2017

 

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