December delight in the night sky

Article Featured Image

Here's our Planetarium demonstrator and resident star-gazer, John Moran, to tell us what to look out for in the night sky this month...
Composite wide angle camera image taken during the peak of 2010's Geminids.

Composite wide angle camera image taken during the peak of 2010's Geminids.

Who needs X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity or Strictly Come Dancing when there is so much viewing pleasure in the night sky above you?

For starters there is the king of planets Jupiter, which you may have already seen but not realised. If you have noticed an unusually bright star directly above your head you have actually been looking at the gas giant with the great red spot. A pair of small binoculars is enough to see its four main moons orbiting either side of it. If you have access to a telescope you should be able to see the equatorial bands running through the planet.

The red planet Mars is currently fighting his way through the constellation of Leo the Lion - but my money is on the god of war! You’ll find Leo rising above the eastern horizon from around 10.30pm but as the weeks go by you should see Mars at a more reasonable time.

Now for the big one this month, the Geminids meteor shower. If we get clear skies on the 13th into the early hours of the 14th you may get to see one of the most abundant meteor showers of the year.

This year the Gibbous moon will reduce the number of shooting stars on offer but you still should bag a few dozen providing you’re away from bright lights or better still in the country. But don’t worry if you live in the city as I’ve seen plenty of meteors from my back garden and believe me I couldn’t be more in the city if I tried!

Nothing is certain with meteor showers, but as someone once said; "Meteor showers are like fishing; you go you enjoy the outdoors, and sometimes you catch a fish". So happy sky hunting this December and all the best for Christmas and New Year.