A clear, cold evening is typically best for stargazing. You may need to bundle up, depending on your location, but this month offers some special treats for those interested in stargazing. Let’s take a look at these big events.
Geminid Meteor Showers
December 13 To 15
In many regards, the Geminid meteor shower is considered the best annual shower. The meteors are bits of rock from the Asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which crosses paths with Earth in its annual orbit. The meteors, pulled by Earth’s gravity, are often seen as slow-moving bright streaks of white light.
An article on Space.com explains that the Geminids are scheduled to reach their peak late on the night of December 14 and into the morning hours of December 15. At that time, 60 to 120 streaking meteors may be seen per hour under ideal dark-sky conditions. The best time to watch will be approximately 2 a.m. local time.
Pro Tip: AccuWeather astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel explains, “You need to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Give your eyes a solid half-hour to adjust. Then give yourself another half-hour to take in the meteors,” Samuhel writes.
Total Eclipse Of The Sun
There’s good news for stargazers in South America: For the second year in a row, a total solar eclipse will be observable from the southern end of South America.
While a partial solar eclipse will be visible across a wide swath of South America, to see totality -- when the moon blots out all direct light from the sun and day temporarily turns to night -- you need to be positioned along the path of the moon’s direct shadow, as the Space.com article mentioned above explains. The path of totality, running across southern Chile and Argentina, will only be about 50 miles wide, but the eclipse promises to pass over some of South America’s most beautiful landscapes.
The maximum duration of totality will be just under 2 minutes and 10 seconds, occurring outside Sierra Colorada in Argentina, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Jupiter And Saturn’s “Great Conjunction”
For the northern hemisphere, December 21 marks the winter solstice. However, something else noteworthy -- and spectacular -- will also happen on that date.
As you may have noticed, Jupiter and Saturn have both been shining brightly in the night sky, and they continue getting closer.
When two planets appear close in the sky, astronomers call it conjunction. Jupiter and Saturn are in conjunction with each other, on average, once about every 20 years. When they do come closest to each other, they are usually separated by about a degree or two.
During the conjunction, people looking to the southwestern sky may mistake the two planets for one really bright star. Anyone using a high-powered telescope will be able to get both planets in the same field of view.
The planets will be low to the horizon in the southwest sky after sunset and will set approximately two and a half hours later.
For more information on these astronomical events, including the best viewing time in your area, check with your local weather service.