189

		

Current Night Sky

MANITOBA SKIES – December 2018

Contributed by Leigh McKinnon, Science Communicator

The cold, long nights of December will bring some of the best star watching of the year, along with a few treats. When we pass through the dusty trail left by the rocky asteroid 3200 Phaeton, we will witness to one of the best meteor showers of the year, the Geminids. If skies are clear, you can possibly see up to 150 meteors per hour. Running from December 4th to 17th, the best time to watch will be the peak during the early morning hours on December 14th. Find a dark spot away from city lights to catch the faintest meteors. Meteors from the Geminids appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear all over the sky.

Later in the month, the Ursid Meteor shower can produce 10 meteors per hour, but many of the meteors could be outshone by the full moon. Heading outside just before sunrise on December 21st will allow the moon to get lower in the sky and allow the meteors have a chance to shine.

A ghostly visitor will appear in our skies during December. Comet 46p/Wirtanen will swing around the sun on December 12th, and if it survives its close encounter, will make its closest approach to Earth on the 16th. Conveniently located close to the Pleiades cluster in the constellation of Taurus, Comet 46P is estimated to increase in brightness to between magnitudes 6 and 3, making it visible in binoculars in darkened country skies and possibly even in light polluted cities. The faint green comet should appear in the south-eastern sky after sunset, moving towards the west in later hours. After the bright peak on the 16th, the comet will slowly fade as it gets further from the sun, its path taking it back to the outer planets of the solar system. Bring out your binoculars or telescope to get the best view of this special event. The comet will move closer towards Capella in the constellation of Auriga as each day passes until it becomes too faint to see just before the new year.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen 's path through the December evening sky.

Though Saturn will set at the same time as the sun during December, you will have a chance to see Mars throughout the month. The red planet will be visible in the southwestern sky until after midnight. There will be a nice conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter in the early morning on December 21st. Best viewing will be a little after 7 am until the sun rises around 8:30 am. Look for Venus nearby in the morning sky as well.

In addition to a meteor shower and a conjunction, December 21st also marks the winter solstice. On this day, the sun is at its lowest point in the sky and is the shortest day of the year.  Look forward to gaining a few minutes of daylight every day until June.

Sky Events – December 2018

Mon Dec 3 (morning): Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will launch aboard a Soyuz rocket to begin his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station. You can see the ISS pass over southern Manitoba every evening for the next 10 days: it looks like a brilliant moving "star" that crosses the sky in only a few minutes. The times vary each night, but you can find a complete schedule here, along with maps of each pass relative to the stars and horizon.

Mon Dec 3 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass begins in the east at about 5:52 p.m. CST, moves high into the north by 5:56 p.m., and fades out in the northeast about 5:57 p.m.

Tue Dec 4 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass begins in the west at about 6:36 p.m. CST, and moves high into the northern sky and fades out a little after 6:40 p.m.

Wed Dec 5 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass begins in the west at about 5:44 p.m. CST and moves high into the northern sky. It passes the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia about 5:49 p.m., and then sinks down towards the eastern horizon, fading out  and fades out near the Pleiades star cluster a little after 5:49 p.m.

Thu Dec 6 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass begins in the west at about 6:28 p.m. CST, and rises almost vertically from the horizon, reaching near overhead about 6:33 p.m. before fading out.

Fri Dec 7: New Moon - a great time to start looking for Comet 46P/Wirtanen!

Fri Dec 7 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba TWICE this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! The first pass begins in the west at about 5:36 p.m. CST, and rises very high in the northern sky about 5:41 p.m. before sinking down into the east. It fades out just before reaching the horizon at 5:43 p.m. The second pass also begins in the west at about 7:13 p.m. CST, rising at a shallow angle to the left but only making it a third of the way up the sky before fading out around 7:15 p.m.

Sat Dec 8 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass begins in the west at about 6:20 p.m. CST, and rises high into the southwestern sky by about 6:25 p.m. It fades out in the southern sky after 6:26 p.m.

Sun Dec 9 (evening): Another double pass of the International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's first pass is the better of the two, beginning in the west-northwest at about 5:28 p.m. CST, and rises vertically from the horizon,skirting the top of the Summer Triangle between 5:32 p.m. and 5:33 p.m.  After passing overhead it sinks into the east-northeast sky, remaining visible until after 5:36 p.m. The second pass begins in the west-northwest about 7:05 p.m. and rises slowly into the southwest, where it fades out about 7:09 p.m.

Mon Dec 10 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass begins in the west-northwest at about 6:12 p.m. CST, and rises into the southwestern sky, passing just below Altair, the bottom of the Summer Triangle, just after 6:16 p.m. It continues into the south, passing below the planet Mars around 6:16:45 p.m., and then fades into the southeast about 6:17:30 p.m.

Tue Dec 11 (evening): The International Space Station has another double pass over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's first pass begins in the west-northwest at about 5:20 p.m. CST and rises into the southwestern sky, cutting through the Summer Triangle just after 5:24 p.m. and continuing across the south and into the southeastern sky. The ISS will be visible until it passes below the horizon around 5:30 p.m. The second pass is quite a low one, rising in the west about 6:59 p.m. It hugs the southern horizon, passing just above the Moon just after 7:00 p.m. before fading out low in the southeast about 7:02 p.m.

Wed Dec 12 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass stays low in the southern sky, rising in the west-northwest about 6:05 p.m. and moving into the south, passing below the Moon about 6:09 p.m. before setting in the southeast after 6:12 p.m.

Thu Dec 13 (evening): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! Tonight's pass stays low in the southern sky, rising in the west-northwest about 7:12 p.m. and moving into the south, passing below the Moon about 7:18 p.m. before setting in the southeast after 7:21 p.m.

Thu Dec 13 (evening) – Fri Dec 14 (morning): Peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower. With the moon setting just after midnight, the best viewing conditions will appear in the early morning hours.

Fri Dec 14 (sunset): The International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba this evening, with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques aboard! This pass actually occurs just before sunset at 4:27 p.m., and so it may be difficult to pick out the ISS against the blue sky - but it is so bright you might see it anyway. It rises in the west-northwest about 4:20 p.m., well to the right of the setting sun, and moves into the southwestern sky, passing above the setting sun about 4:24 p.m. It passes just above the moon abut 4:25 p.m. and then sets about 4:29 p.m.

Sat Dec 15 (morning sky): Mercury at greatest western elongation. Just before sunrise, you’ll be able to see Mercury in the eastern sky just above the horizon.

Sat Dec 15 (evening): The International Space Station gives us its last visible pass for a while, rising about 7:05 p.m. in the west-northwest. It hugs the southwestern horizon and sets about 7:11 p.m.

Sun Dec 16: Comet 46P/Wirtanen makes its closest approach to the Earth.

Fri Dec 21: December solstice. The first day of winter in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer in the southern hemisphere.

Fri Dec 21 (evening) – Sat Dec 22 (morning): Peak of Ursid Meteor Shower. The brightness of the nearly full moon will hide many of the meteors. Head outside after midnight to get the best show.

Sat Dec 22: Full moon

Other events of interest to sky watchers can be found in SkyNews magazine, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing.

To spot the International Space Station as it passes over southern Manitoba, visit Heavens-Above.com which calculates times and directions for you.

 

Share