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The Sky This Month - December 2021

Comet Leonard And The Geminids

If predictions hold, Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) should be a great target to view and image this month. It was discovered on January 3, 2021, by Gregory Leonard. The comet will be located close to the globular cluster M3 low in the east in the early morning hours of December 3. The fast-moving comet will be closest to the earth on December 13 at a distance of 34 million kilometres. Comet Leonard will be positioned south of the planet Venus low in the southwest on December 18. This will make a great photo op.

Comet Leonard will continue its path to the sun and rounds it on January 3 at a mere 0.6 astronomical units or 90 million kilometres. Predictions have the comet to be as bright as magnitude 4 or maybe brighter but comets are unpredictable and could have an outburst at any time. If possible, plan a trip to dark skies to enjoy this interstellar visitor.

The night of December 13/14 will be the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower. This is a fantastic event to observe on a clear crisp winter night. The shower produces about 120 slow graceful meteors per hour. The parent object is not a comet but the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. New studies are suggesting that sodium on the asteroid surface, fizzles as the asteroid dives well within the boundary of Mercury on its 524-day elongated orbit around the sun causing it to brighten and release material. The moon has interfered with many of this year’s meteor showers and the Geminids are no exception as the moon will be 78% lit that night thus washing out the sky and making imaging the event difficult.                                                                                  

A line of three planets is now in the western sky starting with brilliant Venus close to the horizon, then Saturn to the upper left and continuing the line to Jupiter. The 10% crescent moon will sit below Venus on December 6 making a great photo op. Venus will be at its bright on December 3 at magnitude -4.7. After the 9th, Venus begins to recede towards the horizon.

The solstice occurs on December 21 at 15:59 Universal Time signifying the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. The new moon (lunation 1224) occurs on Dec 4 with the Full Cold Moon lighting up the December 19 night sky as well as the snow below your feet.

For those looking to purchase a telescope for themselves or that special someone, because of the pandemic, delays in the supply chain are affecting the ability to order that special item. Be sure to reach out to reputable telescope dealers on guidance and try to stay away from the big box stores as they might stock inexpensive telescopes but the optics and mounting are usually poor quality. A well-made telescope will last you for decades. Case in point, I have been using my eight-inch f/6 Newtonian reflector since 1977 during my lectures and star nights.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Wednesday, December 1, 2021Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages

The Sky This Month - November 2021

Here Comes The Lunar Eclipse

Nothing is more magical than viewing a lunar eclipse. A few times each year, the full moon steps into the earth’s shadow for a few hours, leaving us with lasting memories. Such an eclipse will take place on the night of Nov 18/19 with the Full Beaver Moon. This one will be extra special and appear very close to a total eclipse. Because of the geometry, the moon will be in the larger shadow of the earth except for a mere three percent, leaving the edge in sunlight. A lunar eclipse is very safe to enjoy.

Even though it is not officially proclaimed total, the lunar surface will still exhibit darkness and some colour as typically seen in a total event. People commonly referred to this type of eclipse as a “blood moon”. If you were on the moon at the centre of the shadow during the mid-point of this eclipse, you would see an orange ring around the earth. From this vantage point, you would see sunlight refracting through our atmosphere, witnessing every sunset on the left side of the earth along with every sunrise on the right side at the same time. 

For astrophotographers, the moon will be located amongst the bright winter constellations of Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull and not too far from the Pleiades star cluster. The only drawback is its late hour. All times are local.

                                           Start            Mid eclipse             Ends

Atlantic Time                  3:48 a.m.          5:32 a.m           7:17 a.m.
Eastern Time                 2:18 a.m.          4:02 a.m.          5:47 a.m.
Central Time                  1:18 a.m.          3:02 a.m.          4:47 a.m.
Mountain Time             12:18 a.m.          2:02 a.m.          3:47 a.m.
Pacific Time (Nov 18)   11:18 p.m.          1:02 a.m.          2:47 a.m.

A nice photo op occurs low in the west on November 7 with the 13% crescent moon to the right of brilliant Venus. You should still see earthshine or the DaVinci glow on the unlit side of the lunar surface. Over the next two weeks, follow Venus as it passes through the “teapot” of Sagittarius. The moon can also be found below and left of Saturn on November 10 and below bright Jupiter the night after.  

The Leonid Meteor shower peaks on the night of November 17/18, producing about 15 meteors per hour under near full moon conditions. The parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle has produced some vivid meteor storms such as in 1833 when the rate was 72,000 per hour. That equals 20 meteors lighting up the sky per second. The comet returns every 33 years. It will be many years until we see another storm.

Sunday, November 7 marks the end of Daylight Saving Time. Be sure to turn your clocks back at 2 a.m. where applicable. This month’s new moon occurs on November 5.

Until next month, clear skies.

Gary Boyle

Author: Gary BoyleeNews date: Monday, November 1, 2021Category: Northern SkiesTweet::  Pages