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Post Info TOPIC: December


L

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RE: December
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From now through mid-2006, it's Saturn time again. The planet Saturn returns to our early evening sky this month to the delight of stargazers everywhere. Saturn, the Jewel of the Solar System, rises from the Northeastern horizon after 8:00 p.m.

On Sunday, Dec. 18, the moon appears close to the ringed planet, as shown in this sky map. Through a small telescope, observers will see Saturn and its rings. In binoculars, Saturn will appear as a golden oval and the rings may be visible. To the unaided eye, Saturn will appear as a pale golden "star" to the lower right of the moon. The moon and Saturn appear larger on the sky chart.



Two stars are shown on the sky map. These are Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini. On December 17, look for the two stars near the moon.

If sky watchers miss this moon-and-Saturn lineup, there`s no need to worry. The celestial dance is visible every month, and the moon appears near Saturn again, but even earlier in the evening and higher in the sky, on Jan. 14 and 15, and again on Feb. 10 and 11, 2006.

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MERCURY is in the morning sky, rising before the Sun, during December, but will be a very difficult object to observe. At its greatest elongation west of the Sun, on December 13, Mercury will rise only 1 hour before the Sun as seen from New Zealand, and still be only a degree or two up by the time morning twilight makes the eastern sky too bright to see the planet.

VENUS will start the month quite high in the early evening sky, but its altitude will decline during December. On the first of the month it will have an altitude from the latitude of New Zealand of about 35 at sunset, and set close to midnight. By the end of December its sunset altitude will be about 10 and the planet will set about one hour after the Sun.
Venus starts the month in Sagittarius. It moves into Capricornus on December 14 where it reaches a stationary point on December 23 and then heads back towards Sagittarius, which it re-enters on New Year's Day.

MARS will be prominent all evening in Aries throughout December. The planet will be well north of the equator, so will be rather low from the southern hemisphere. It will be well placed for evening viewing, not setting until well after midnight throughout the month. Mars will remain bright, although its magnitude will fade from -1.6 to -0.6 during the month .

JUPITER will be in the morning sky rising before the Sun. At the start of December it will be low in the twilight, but by the end, the planet rises more than three hours before the Sun, when its altitude will be nearly 30 in a direction just north of east three-quarters of an hour before sunrise.
Jupiter will be in Libra moving in the direction of the star alpha Librae, magnitude 2.7. By the end of the month the two will be only 2 apart. Jupiter at magnitude -1.8 will be by far the brighter. The planet is low in the dawn sky at the end of the month.

SATURN will be in the morning sky, rising in the early morning hours. The planet will be rising about 1 am at the beginning of December and 2 hours earlier by the end of the month. It remains in Cancer and will move in a retrograde sense back toward the star delta Cancer, magnitude 3.9. The two will be just over 1.25 apart on December 31, when Saturn will have a magnitude 0.2, and be much brighter than the star.

December 2005 Astronomy Calendar

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