As we are slowly nearing the end of 2016 – a year of some great celestial shows – there are still a couple of events remaining including the supermoon, meteor showers and planetary dance.
While many of you would have seen the Mercury and Venus in the evening sky alongside the crescent moon, the best sightings are yet to come. With December 1 we saw the moon above planet Mercury that was low in the evening sky. Just a day after that moon was visible above Venus and the same alignment can be witnessed the next day as well. On Sunday, i.e. December 4th, the moon was 25 per cent illuminated and close to Mars in the evening sky.
The moon will continue to brighten up as we come to the middle of the month until the supermoon event on December 14. This is the third consecutive supermoon in the last three months and will end the year on a bright note.
On December 12, star Aldebaran will disappear or occult behind the moon in the evening sky.
A day after that the timing of the Geminids meteor shower could not have been any worse since it would be full moon and because of that the otherwise bright Geminids will be putting up a rather lacklustre show. However, the showers will be at their peak on December 13 and 14 and stargazers can expect to see around 60 to 120 meteors per hour. Supermoon’s bright light will hamper the awesome show, nevertheless the brightest meteors would still be visible and viewers can catch a good peek of the meteor shower on the nights before and after Geminid’s peak.
On December 22, the moon is above Jupiter and star Spica in the morning sky.
On New Year’s Eve, Mars will have a rare close encounter with the planet Neptune. The best way to see the event is through the telescope. Head out to the open on December 31st evening and set your telescope to centre Mars and then look for a dim nearby star. That’s Neptune.
As the evening wears away Mars and Neptune will drift closer to each other and will only be 11 arc minutes away from each other. Observers on the West Coast will even see a closer view. The two objects will only be four arc minutes apart. Further into the evening, the two objects continue to drift closer together until they are only one arc minute apart. However, we won’t see it since it occurs below the horizon.
Venus will be the highlight of December and January as it climbs progressively higher in the sky and consequently will set later after sundown. On Jan. 12, Venus will arrive at its greatest eastern elongation, or its greatest angular distance east of the sun. Just a few days later, the planet will be setting almost 4 full hours after the sun. And during the first 10 days of February, Venus will stand 40 degrees above the southwest horizon at sunset, soaring as high as it will get for this current evening apparition.