By Jon Spargo
Tech Astronomy Club
This month we’ll lead off with news of a spectacular Lunar Eclipse that will be visible from all of North America during the night of Dec. 20 to 21. This is going to be a beauty with totality lasting for one hour and 12 minutes. We will be able to see the entire eclipse from beginning to end. Mark your calendars because this won’t happen again in North America until April 2014.
The fun starts at 10:55 p.m. (MST) on Dec. 20 when the Penumbra will first be visible. At 11:33 p.m. the partial eclipse begins followed by totality beginning at 12:41 a.m. Dec. 21. Mid-eclipse occurs at 1:17 a.m. and totality ends at 1:53 a.m. The partial eclipse ends at 3:01 a.m. and the Penumbra will be last visible at 3:35 a.m.
This month also brings the Geminid Meteor shower during the night of Dec. 13 to 14. The Moon will be just past first quarter and will set around midnight. This is one of the more productive meteor showers and can rival the Perseids for the number of meteors seen. The Geminids will appear to originate from near Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini. The peak should be about 2 a.m. on Dec. 14 when you could see an average of about two meteors per minute.
This month Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn and Venus are the stars of our planetary show. Jupiter is high in the southern sky at sunset. At the beginning of the month, Uranus is three degrees east of Jupiter. By month’s end, Jupiter will have moved to within a mere 40 arc minutes of Uranus making it a great opportunity to see both planets with a small telescope.
Saturn rises around 2 a.m. and its rings have opened to a tilt of 10 degrees, the best in several years. Venus, at magnitude -4.9, rises about three hours before the sun and will knock your eyes out with its dazzling brilliance. A small telescope will reveal that the percentage of illumination of the planet will grow to about 45 percent by the end of the month.
From Dec. 18 to 20, the nearly full Moon will be found skimming past the Pleiades and the Hyades (Taurus) clusters winding up between the two stars that form the tip of Taurus’(The Bull) horns. Owing to the brightness of the Moon, it will be a challenge to see these constellations and stars. A good pair of binoculars will help.
The night of the Dec. 21 to 22 will be the longest night of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere and will mark the Winter Solstice, which begins at 4:38 p.m. on Dec. 21.