The highlight of December is the “Great Conjunction” of Saturn and Jupiter on Monday, December 21. These two giant planets will be the closest to each other since 1623!
Watch in the southwest as these two naked-eye planets move toward each other every night in December. This is easy to see after 6 pm as night falls to total darkness. Make sure to look on December 16 and 17 when the thin crescent Moon is next to these two planets. The next time these two heavenly bodies will be closer together is March 5, 2040.
Sunday, December 13, will be the “Geminids” meteor shower. Make an effort to watch this one. There will be a few shooting stars between 6 pm and midnight. After midnight the action peaks where triple the number of meteors can be see until dawn at 6 am on December 14. As always, we can see some meteors in the city, but the viewing will be better in the mountains or desert. Stay warm!
Go outside on December 23 and look straight up to see the red planet Mars with the Moon nearby. Enjoy seeing Mars now, as it will lose a lot of its brightness in 2021 as Earth moves away from our neighbor.
Every night in December look overhead in the west to see the bright “Summer Triangle.” In the northeast your eyes will be drawn to a bright sparkling star that is Capella. Capella is actually a group of four stars that orbit around each other, but we see them as one star. To the right of this bright star is the famous star cluster, the Pleiades. Also in the north is Cassiopeia, the Queen, which now is a big “M.” In the east the famous hunter Orion is rising above the horizon.
The International Space Station (ISS) makes a great pass over us on Thursday night, December 10. This will be a great time to show the little ones, as it will be visible at 5:08 pm.
The ISS will come from the northwest and be straight up at 5:11 pm. It will be dazzling, so make an effort to see it as it moves toward the east. Remember there are no blinking lights. The ISS will be visible for over six minutes! It travels at 17,200 miles per hour and can go around the whole Earth in an hour and a half.
Space News: A company called Orion Span is going to put a “Space Hotel” in orbit in early 2022. The ISS orbits at about 250 miles above Earth. The Orion Hotel will be at about 210 miles. The cost is $9,500 per person for 12 nights. Let us know if you buy a ticket.
Dawn Patrol: In December, the Sun rises at 6:45 am. Therefore, we will have dark skies until 6:15 am and the planet Venus will still be visible in the east. Above Venus is a very bright star called Spica, which is in the constellation Virgo. Make sure to look December 9 and 10 when the waning crescent Moon is near Venus. It will be a great sight!
Special Event: NASA and JPL are putting on a special event for 5th through 12th grade students. It is called “Scientist for a Day.” It requires an essay about sending a probe to the biggest Moons of Uranus: Ariel, Miranda and Titania. The whole classroom will be rewarded and there can be many winners. This is a free event to enter. For more info contact Dana Eklund, Librarian at the Sylmar Library, (818) 367-6102 or at email@example.com or contact JPL at firstname.lastname@example.org
FUN FACT: The big moons of Uranus are named after characters in plays of Shakespeare such as Oberon and Umbriel.
Uranus has 27 moons, but for years only five were visible. Vandenberg Air Force Base is planning a big rocket launch at the end of December on New Years Eve. This will be exciting as a new rocket, Firefly Alpha, will be launched. We hope it will be a twilight launch which would light up the sky after sunset. We will post on Facebook the exact launch time as the date nears.
When not star gazing, Neill Simmons, is a Wealth Manager with LPL Financial in Woodland Hills. If you have any astronomy or financial questions, he may be reached at (818) 936-2626 or at email@example.com.