WHAT’S UP IN THE SKY THIS DECEMBER 2018?

WHAT’S UP IN THE SKY THIS DECEMBER 2018?

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This wonderful year 2018 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 at the sky for the final month of 2018? The following is a list of astronomical events for December 2018. All dates and times were given in UAE Local Time.

December 4, 2018: Close Approach of the Moon and Venus

The Moon and planet Venus would appear close to each other (around 3°23’ angular separation) at the sky when viewed from Earth. This close approach will be visible at eastern portion of the sky in the constellation of Virgo (the virgin) from around 4 AM until sunrise.  The moon will be at the Waning Crescent phase (about 11% illuminated). Venus would appear as a brilliant “morning star” northeast of the Moon.

Illustration of the Close Approach of the Waning Crescent Moon and Venus at around 5 AM of December 4, 2018 (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 7, 2018: New Moon

On this day, the moon will not be visible as it will be situated at the same side of the Earth as the Sun, in the constellation of Ophiuchus (the serpent bearer). 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 this lunar phase will occur on this day. However, the month transition from Rabi al-Awwal to Rabi al-Akhir shall take place three days later (December 10) in accordance to the Hijri Calendar 1440.

December 7, 2018: Conjunction of Mars and Neptune

The planets Mars and Neptune will appear close to each other on this date. The conjunction will be so close (about 0°02’ apart) that the two planets can be seen within the same field of view through a “powerful” telescope (about 11-inch or bigger). It will be observed right after sunset until 11:30 PM within the constellation Aquarius (the water bearer).

Telescopic view of Mars-Neptune Conjunction on December 7, 2018 using a 14-inch compound telescope at 80x magnification (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 13-14, 2018: 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 of the sky from around 10 PM all the way through dawn of the next day. The space debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon entering Earth is the one responsible for this meteor shower. The waxing crescent moon (about 33% illumination) will earlier in the evening (at around 11:30 PM) before the Geminids’ radiant rises, providing less moonlight interference with the meteor shower which increases the chance of seeing numerous meteors. 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 15, 2018: Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation

The smallest planet in the Solar System, Mercury will appear at its highest point just few moments before sunrise.  The maximum extent of angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth will be at around 11° (in the UAE). This means Mercury can be only seen up to 11° above the southwestern horizon, from 5:30 AM before disappearing from view as the sunrise at around 6:40 AM. Though it is moderately bright (at apparent magnitude of -0.46), observing it will be challenging due to twilight glare from the fact that Mercury is situated near the Sun in the sky.

Apparent view of Mercury’s Greatest Western Elongation few moments before sunrise on December 15, 2018 (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 15, 2018: Close Approach of the Moon and Mars

The bright Waxing Gibbous Moon and the red planet Mars will appear close to each other in the sky. The two celestial objects will be separated 3°33’ from each other in the night sky. The close approach will be seen above the southern horizon right after sunset (around 6 PM) until midnight when Mars will set earlier. Both celestial objects will be situated in the constellation Sagittarius (the archer). Mars would look like a vivid red “star” to the right of the Moon.

Illustration of the Close Approach of the Waxing Gibbous Moon and Mars on December 15, 2018 evening (not to scale) (Graphic Courtesy of Stellarium)

December 22, 2018: December (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 day times and longer night times 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. The exact occurrence of the solstice will be on December 22, 2018, 02:22 AM Abu Dhabi Time.

Winter Solstice Diagram (Image Credit: USA Today)

December 22, 2018: Full 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 November 23, 2018 (Image Credit: Thabet Al Qaissieh/Al Sadeem Astronomy)

December 22-23, 2018: Ursid Meteor Shower

On the late evening hours of December 22 until dawn of December 23, 2018, 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 of 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. Unfortunately, the Full Moon will glare out much of the night sky, reducing the number of meteors to be actually observed. 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)

Many brilliant prominent winter stars, constellations and deep-sky objects will be seen during night time and early morning hours such as Sirius, Canopus, the Andromeda Galaxy, Orion Molecular complex which includes the prominent Orion Nebula, and the brilliant open star cluster Pleiades known as the “Seven Sisters” in Taurus. Planet Mars will show up right after sunset (around 6 PM) until 11:30 PM. The faint planets Uranus and Neptune can also be seen using “powerful” (11-inch or higher aperture) telescopes in the early evening hours. Venus can be observed from 2:30 AM until sunrise. The remaining bright naked-eye planets Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter are barely to not visible this month as they are situated near the Sun in the sky at dawn. from  For this month, sunrise occurrences range between 6:49AM and as late as 7:06AM while sunsets shall happen between 5:44 PM to as early as 5:33 PM.

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

Canopus, Pleiades, Andromeda Galaxy with Comet 46P and Orion Nebula taken from Al Sadeem Observatory (Image Credit: Al Sadeem Astronomy)

References

Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sea and Sky: www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2018.html

Calendar of Astronomical Events. (n.d.). Retrieved from In-The-Sky.org: http://in-the-sky.org/newscal.php?year=2018&month=12&maxdiff=5

Islamic calendar 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from Calendar.sk: https://calendar.zoznam.sk/islamic_calendar-en.php

Sunrise and sunset times in Abu Dhabi, December 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from timeanddate.com: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/united-arab-emirates/abu-dhabi?month=12&year=2018

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