Title: December Skywatch Highlights
Location: Hawaiian Islands
Date / Time: December 2011
Comments: Behold our fabulous Winter Sky! It's wonderful to experience Orion & his faithful hunting dogs, (Canis Major & Minor), as well as Taurus, Gemini, Pegasus, & the other great constellations of Winter, returning to our night skies. Stunning VENUS glows brilliantly in the southwestern sky just after sunset. At magnitude minus -3.9, our "sister planet" shines far brighter than any other point of light in the sky. Venus appears in the constellation Sagittarius, until Dec. 20th when it crosses over into Capricornus. On the 26th, look for a slender crescent Moon to the right of Venus, a lovely pairing for naked eyes & thru binoculars. By the end of the month, Venus will set at around 8:30 PM. JUPITER, blazing at magnitude minus -2.7, rules the evening sky after Venus sets. Look for the brilliant gas giant high in the southeast just after sunset, among the relatively dim background stars of Aries & Pisces. By the end of December, Jupiter will be high overhead at dusk, & will set by 2AM. With a small telescope or good binoculars, you can view Jupiter's 4 bright Galilean moons in their ever-changing configurations. Galileo first saw them nearly 400 years ago with a 1.5-inch telescope of lower quality than any available today. Larger scopes will reveal Jupiter's dark equatorial belts, (one on either side of a brighter equatorial zone), the giant red spot, & other dynamic surface features. MARS rises in the east before midnight & appears very high in the southern sky at daybreak. Mars brightens considerably this month, (to magnitude 0.2), as it approaches peak visibility early in 2012. Look for the orange-red glow of the planet, in stark contrast to the relatively colorless stars that surround it in southern Leo. SATURN appears in our morning sky, positioned well above the southeastern horizon before dawn. Early in the month, the ringed planet rises in east at 4AM & shines at magnitude 0.7, bright enough to pierce the dawn glow. By months end, Saturn rises at 2AM & is halfway up in the east at dawn. Look for Saturn just 5 degrees northeast of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. Golden Saturn shines slightly brighter than blue-white Spica. Saturn's spectacular ring system currently tilts 9-degrees to our line of sight from Earth. This wide angle affords magnificent telescopic views. MERCURY will be viewable in our morning sky from Dec. 15th onward. Look for the tiny innermost planet, 6 degrees high in the southeast, at around 6AM, an hour before sunrise. Mercury reaches western elongation (it's greatest distance west of the Sun) on Dec. 22nd, when it shines at magnitude minus -0.4. On this same morning, Mercury lies 7 deg. to the upper left of 1st magnitude Antares (red super-giant which is the "heart" of Scorpius); while a crescent Moon stands to the planet's upper right. The Southern Cross (Crux) returns to our Hawaiian morning sky. On Dec. 15th, the Cross rises at 5AM & you'll have an hour to view it before daybreak. By the end of December, it rises at 4AM, two hours prior to dawn. To view Crux, you'll need an unobstructed view to the southern horizon. Acrux, the bottom star of the Cross, rises only about six degrees above the horizon at it highest point. Dec.21st (HST) marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year for the northern hemisphere, when the Sun reaches its maximum distance south of the celestial equator. In Hawaii, we'll have just under 11 hours between sunrise & sunset. For a December Hawaiian sky map & sky watch column visit Bishop Museum Planetarium www.bishopmuseum.org/planetarium (bishopmuseum.org).

Maintained by Roz Reiner - Kauai, Hawaii


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