Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for December 13 – 19

During the next two weeks something dramatic happens in the sky: Venus, which has been the reliable and brilliant “Evening Star”, disappears. The four diagrams posted last week show what you’ll see. Each night Venus is significantly lower at the same time than the night before and it sets earlier.

On the 13th it’s conspicuous in the southwest in evening twilight; on the 20th it’s a bit lower at the same time; on the 27th it’s a lot lower, and by January 3rd it’s gone. Begin watching this week and check it every night or two. There is motion and change in the sky and you can see it if you have a bit of patience. As a friend said, “every night is a new show, and we have front row seats.”

What’s happening is that Venus’ orbit lies inside ours, and Venus is presently catching up to and passing the earth. When Venus is to the left of the sun, as it is now, it’s approaching us, and when to the right of the sun, as it will be in January, it’s moving away. Stand looking at Venus, imagine where the sun is (below the horizon) and visualize Venus moving on a circular orbit from left to right, toward us, past us, and then away.

At the same time its phase, as seen through almost any telescope, decreases, as it moves more nearly in line with the sun. It’s a thin crescent becoming thinner by the night. Find a friend with a telescope and beg a look.

Jupiter and Saturn remain where they have been, except that the earth’s motion around the sun causes them to set a half-hour earlier each week, so they’ll slowly slip behind the sun next month.

The year’s best meteor shower – the Geminids – peaks on Tuesday morning, the 14th. The best strategy is to set your alarm for moonset, about 3 a.m., when the sky becomes dark, bundle up warmer than you think you’ll need to, find a place with a wide view of the sky, and look up.

Meteors will appear to radiate from nearly overhead but will appear all over the sky. The shower actually lasts more than a week but bright moonlight will be a huge problem until moonset. Under ideal conditions you might see one meteor a minute. Uncle Google will give details: search for “Geminid meteors.”

Skywatchers with binoculars or a small telescope might enjoy looking for this comet which is briefly appearing in the morning sky. Detailed information is at:

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The Sky Report is written by John Mosley and presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to [email protected]

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