OWATONNA — This December is an unusual month because there are no bright planets in the evening sky. However, there is a meteor shower in mid-December that can be seen both in the evening and the morning.
Reddish Mars rises in the southeast a couple hours before sunrise all month long. However, Mars is not very bright to the naked eye.
Early in December yellowish Jupiter rises in the southeast about two hours after Mars. Jupiter rises earlier each morning until it has caught up with Mars by the end of December. Both planets rise about 2 hours before sunrise.
Venus and Saturn are not visible at all this month.
In December there are some pairings of the Moon with Mars, the Moon with Jupiter as well as Mars with Jupiter. See the December Sky Events list.
The Geminid Meteor Shower is the highlight of the month. This meteor shower is noteworthy because it is a major meteor shower, there is minimal Moon interference and it is visible both in the evening and the morning sky. It peaks during the evening of Dec. 13 and the morning of Dec. 14. The day before and the day after the 13th, viewers should be able to see about half of the peak meteor activity. During the early evening on the 13th, viewers can expect to see a meteor about every 10 minutes. By 10 p.m. meteor activity should have increased to a meteor every 3 to 5 minutes and from 1 to 2 a.m. one every couple minutes. Meteor activity should continue to be strong from 2 a.m. to dawn.
A meteor is part of the Geminid Meteor Shower if its path can be traced backwards to originate from the area of the constellation Gemini. Geminid Meteors can be seen anywhere in the sky with a big open dark area.
December Sky Events
• Dec. 8 and 9: In the morning sky, the Moon is near the star Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion.
• Dec. 13: In the morning sky, an hour before sunrise, the crescent Moon is above the reddish planet Mars, with yellowish Jupiter below Mars.
• Dec 13 and 14: The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th.
• Dec. 14: In the morning sky, an hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter is below the crescent Moon. Mars is above and to the right of Jupiter and the Moon.
• Dec. 18-26: In the morning sky in the southeast, less than one finger-width (held at arms’ length) will separate the bright planet Jupiter and the star Alpha Librae.
• Dec. 21: This is the longest night of the year and the start of winter.
• Dec 30 and 31: In the morning sky about an hour before sunrise, reddish Mars is to the right of bright Jupiter with the star Alpha Librae between the two planets.
To learn more, come to the monthly club meeting of the Steele County Astronomical Society on the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. in the Gainey Room of the Public Library. Free star charts will be provided.