November offered great views of nebulae!
This is the Flame (lower left quadrant) and the
Horse Head Nebulae (upper right quadrant) and a couple of small
The main star in this shot is Alnitak. It’s
the easternmost star in Orion’s belt. With a visual magnitude of +1.7,
it’s easy to see with the naked eye. Alnitak is about 740 light
To the right of Alnitak, you can see IC 434 and
Barnard 33, the Horsehead Nebula. IC 434 is the glowing red
emission nebula that lets us see the dark nebula Barnard 33. IC 434 has
a visual magnitude of +7.3 and is about 800 light years away from us.
Just below Alnitak lies the Flame Nebula. It’s an
emission nebula with a visual magnitude of +10.0. Like the
Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula consists of a bright emission nebula
that’s obscured by dark nebula in front of it. But in this case,
nobody took the time to distinguish the two nebula.
Both of these emission nebulae are clouds of
hydrogen gas that are ionized by the ultra-violet light emitted by
Alnitak. The dark nebulae are dense dust clouds that block the light of
the emission nebula. Apparently, the Flame Nebula has areas of star
formation and several bright stars within its boundaries. This might
explain why its color is different than the red of IC 434.
What to look for in December 2018.
Mars is the only easily seen planet in the
evening skies of December. It you watch it on a nightly basis,
you will get to see some retrograde motion. Instead of constantly
seeming to move from East to West as the month goes by, Mars will
appear to move closer to the eastern horizon. This apparent
motion is actually caused by the earth moving away from Mars.
Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto are also visible in
the night skies for all of December. With any luck, you might be able
to spot Uranus with your naked eye on one of our dark, clear winter
Venus will continue being a spectacular morning
star throughout December. You might be able to spot Jupiter and Mercury
near the eastern horizon around 6:40 a.m. on December 1. Mercury
will appear to be higher in the morning sky for the first ten days of
the month, and then it will show retrograde movement and start each
morning a little closer to the horizon while Jupiter will rise a little
earlier each day. On the 21, the two planets will be in conjunction
with each other.
The Geminids Meteor Shower peaks on the night of
December 13. This is a major event with up to 120 shooting stars per
hour! Look for the twin stars Castor and Pollux in the eastern
skies. The meteor shower is best viewed between midnight and
dawn, but you might see some activity as early as 9 p.m.
New Moon is December 7
1st Quarter is the December 15
Full Moon is December 22
Last Quarter is December 29