Skywatch: Mars will be brighter in early December and Gemini will peak mid-month

Skywatch: Mars will be brighter in early December and Gemini will peak mid-month


December’s skies offer the occasional skygazer planetary delight and shooting star delights.

Earthneighboring planet of march becomes bright due to proximity, but planet reaches opposition on December 8th.

According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, on December 1 our reddish neighbor will approach Earth by about 80 million kilometers, and a week later, on December 8, Mars will face it Sun from our Earth perspective, according to the US Naval Observatory. Think of opposition as “full Mars.” Essentially, this means that Mars will be bright and glorious at around -1.9 magnitude in early December.

Mars rises in the east as the Sun sets in the west — and you can find him hanging around near the constellation’s horns bull the bull.

As the Mars opposition officially takes place on December 8th, see the red planet up close moon on the evening of December 7th. In the western United States, the full moon will obscure (block) Mars. In the DC region, Mars appears to be sticking close to the moon.

Later in December, our favorite red planet loses a bit of brightness, dimming to -1.4 magnitude (bright) by the end of the month, according to the observatory.

Find the first quarter moon nearby on December 1st Jupiterwhich seems to hang in the constellation fishes in the southeast sky after dark. The large, gaseous planet is very bright at -2.6 mag. Catch Jupiter all month. The thickening moon also approaches Jupiter on December 28 and will pass the planet by December 29.

When the sky darkens after dark, you will find Saturn in the south-southwest is preparing to sink. The ringed planet is in the constellation Capricorn at +0.7 magnitude slightly weak under city conditions.

Catch the playful pals by mid-December mercury and Venus in the southwestern sky as twilight turns to night. They are very low on the horizon. Swift Mercury will be harder to see at -0.6 mag (bright), but Venus will shine at -3.9 mag (exceptionally bright). Venus has been hiding near the Sun since October and will climb the evening sky in January.

tea twin meteor showers Peaks on Dec. 13 and 14, and astronomers estimate 150 per hour late into the evening, according to the American Meteor Society ( You won’t see them all, but if the sky is clear and you avoid streetlights, you can catch several. A waning crescent moon rises before 10pm and may wash out some meteors.

Autumn gives way to winter, like December solstice marks the start of the season change on December 21, according to the Observatory. On that date, according to the observatory, Washington officially gets 9 hours 26 minutes of daylight, making it what is known as the shortest day of the year. The next day we will see a bit more sunlight.

* Dec 2 — “The Latest on the Great Dinosaur Extinction,” a talk by Sean Gulick, a research professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Learn how an asteroid impact killed dinosaurs. Hosted by PSW Science. 8 p.m., Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW in DC information:

* 4 Dec — See the late fall starry sky through telescopes provided by members of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC). In the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia. (GPS: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway.) Meet at the Museum Bus Lot, 5-7pm. Info:

* Dec 10 — The latest discoveries from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Chile) and the James Webb Space Telescope, a presentation by astrophysicist Joe Pesce of the National Science Foundation. At the regular meeting (online only) of the National Capital Astronomers. 7:30 p.m. Accessed at:

* Dec 11 — “Tick, Tick, Tick: Pulsating Star, How We Wonder What You Are,” a talk by astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first radio pulsar in 1967. While Burnell is speaking virtually, members and guests are welcome in person Northern Virginia Astronomy Club Meeting, Room 3301, Exploratory Hall, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. 1:30-3:30 p.m. Info:

* Dec 16 — “Back to the Moon to Stay: Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium,” a talk by planetary geologist Brett Denevi and physicist Wesley Fuhrman, both from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Hosted by PSW Science. 8 p.m., Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW in DC information:

* Dec 17 — Astronomy for All at Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County, Virginia, with members of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club guiding you through the sky. 16:30-19:30 GPS: 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, Virginia, 20144. Info: Parking Fee: $10.

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