The night sky in December

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    As the year 2019 winds down, the night sky is full of wonders and celestial sights that lend themselves to patient observation and reflection. Planets congregate in the evening sky, with Jupiter and Saturn on the way out for the year as Venus grows brighter and higher as the month progresses. The crescent Moon adds some pizzaz to this planet congregation in the first days and last days of the month. Mercury and Mars are visible in the morning sky before sunrise. The Geminids, a reliable and impressive meteor shower, peaks at mid-month while a second lesser-known meteor shower peaks a week later. And, of course, the Sun reaches its most southerly point on the ecliptic, ushering in winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. Here's what to see in the night sky this month……………….

    5th December 2019.
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    Wake on the first few mornings of the month to see the planet Mercury and Mars just over the southeastern horizon before dawn. At magnitude -0.6, the planet is impressively bright and it rises about 1.5 hours before the Sun. Take a look if you have a view low over the eastern horizon.

    The planet moves back towards the horizon during the first two weeks of December and becomes lost to view on about December 16.

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    After sunset, look to the west/southwest to see three bright planets lined up along with a crescent Moon just to the east and north. Venus is the brightest of the planets, followed by Saturn. Jupiter and Saturn are on the way out for the year after wonderful apparitions in 2019.

    Venus continues to grow a little brighter and much higher for the remainder of the month and into 2020, taking its unmistakable position as the ‘Evening Star’ for the first months of the new year.

    10 December
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    Last month Venus and Jupiter made a close approach to each other. This month, it’s Saturn that comes close, just 2 degrees away from Venus in the southwestern sky after sunset.

    13th/14th December
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    You can see Geminid meteors anywhere in the sky and from anywhere on Earth. They trace their path back to a point in the constellation Gemini near the star Castor. If possible, look just after dark for a few Geminids as they enter the atmosphere at a shallow angle and burn slowly across the sky. The meteor shower happens on this date each year as the Earth passes through a stream of debris from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a somewhat mysterious asteroid discovered only 35 years ago.

    22nd December
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    The Sun reaches the December Solstice, the southernmost point on the ecliptic at 04:19 UTC. This marks the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere and the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. Happy Winter and Summer, respectively!

    29th December
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    Look for a slender crescent Moon along with bright Venus and fainter (and lower) Saturn in the southwestern sky after just after sunset.

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