evening of Tuesday, Dec. 13, will feature the last supermoon 2016. It
will not be quite as spectacular as November’s full moon, but it will
still be pretty bright. December’s full moon will have a visual
magnitude of -12.5! That’s bright enough to throw shadows.
the supermoon will also make it super hard to get a look at the
Geminids meteor shower. The Geminids peak on the morning of Dec.
14. Normally, an observer might see 120 shooting stars per
hour, but the full moon will probably reduce this year’s visible
meteors to about 10 to 20 per hour.
supermoon will not interfere with the Ursid meteor shower. It
will peak in the early morning hours of Dec. 22 and feature about 10
meteors per hour. The shower appears to originate from Ursa
Minor. Ursa Minor -- the Little Bear -- contains the Little
Dipper and the first star in the handle of the Little Dipper is
Polaris, the North Star, so it’s pretty easy to get a handle on where
to look for this meteor shower.
nice feature of the Ursid shower is it ends on Dec. 23 so it won’t
interfere with any children (or parents) who want to keep an open eye
out for flying sleighs on the 25th!
will start with Mercury, Venus, and Mars visible in the evening
skies. Mercury will be closest to the western horizon and
disappear from view shortly after dusk. Venus will start the
month fairly high and bright in the southwest sky with Mars appearing
higher and more to the south-southwest. Neptune and Uranus
are also present in the night skies, but you need a telescope to get a
good view of them.
Jupiter will be visible in the pre-dawn skies near the eastern horizon. It rises in the east about 2:40 a.m. on Dec. 1.
bright star Capella will be visible slightly above the northeast
horizon as soon as the skies begin to darken. Capella is the
sixth brightest star in the night skies. Capella is a Latin word
that means “the little she-goat.” If you look slightly south of
Capella, you should be able to spot a group of three fainter
stars. They are called the “kids.”
biggest sight in November’s night sky was the supermoon of November
14. This was the closest the full moon has been to the Earth
since 1948. We will not see another comparable super moon until
2034. (Photograph courtesy of NASA.gov.)
clear skies of November also gave me a unique astrophotography
opportunity. I was able to get a decent image of the Bubble
Nebula, below. This faint emission nebula is 1,400 light years
away and has a visual magnitude of +11.00. It is located in the
The image is the result of stacking 100 frames. Each frame has a 25 second exposure time.
also got a fairly good shot of the Pacman Nebula. For those of us
who were around in the '80s, the reasoning behind the name is pretty
obvious. If you’re too young to remember the video game, you
might want to try Googling “Pac Man.” The Pacman Nebula is 4,000
light years away and has a visual magnitude of +7.4. Like
the Bubble Nebula, it is found in the constellation, Cassiopeia.
Since I have been focusing on Cassiopeia, here is another object from that area of the sky, the Owl Cluster.
The Owl cluster has a visual magnitude of +6.4. It’s 7.9 thousand light years away.
First Quarter: Dec. 7
Full moon: Dec. 13
Last Quarter: Dec. 20
New moon: Dec. 29
Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey
in Washington, D.C. He has visited Hatteras Island since the
mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several
years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.
Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in
and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory
next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky
through e-mail, [email protected]g.)