We close 2021, which was a great year for skywatchers, filled with many observing treats in our night skies, with a December filled with planets, meteors and, maybe, a bright comet.
Venus will peak in maximum brightness just after sunset, and the annual Geminid meteor shower will peak Dec. 14. And it is possible that a comet will reach unaided eye visibility in mid-December.
Venus will be the first planet to appear, low in the south-western sky. On Dec. 4, it will be so bright that we will be able to see it even in bright twilight after sunset. The slim waxing crescent moon will be very close to Venus on Dec. 16.
Comet C/2021/A1 (Leonard) might be visible Dec. 15 through 17, just below Venus, possibly without optical aid. But scan the area below Venus with binoculars first to find it.
Comets are small masses of the same materials that make up planets. Comets travel in elongated orbits around the sun.
From time to time comets may become visible to us as their orbits bring them closer to the sun, and therefore, closer to us.
Producing no light of their own, they grow in brightness due to reflected light from the sun. They are cold objects. And as they break up due to the sun’s heat and energy, they will sport streaming tails.
It will be worthwhile for us to look for this comet especially since it may approach naked-eye brightness. It will be around for about a week before it dips below the western horizon.
Saturn will be found to the left (east) of Venus, still among the stars of Capricornus. While it is bright, Saturn will be much, much dimmer than Venus.
The moon will be below Saturn on Dec. 7. Jupiter is left (east) of Saturn and still quite bright. The waxing moon stands below Jupiter on Dec. 8 and Jupiter will be seen to the right (west) of the moon on Dec. 9.
Both Saturn and Jupiter will be setting by 9 p.m. at the end of December — so look for them before that.
The annual Geminind meteor shower will peak in the early morning hours of Dec. 14 looking west. The moon will interfere with seeing the meteors until it sets at 3 a.m. local time, so plan on looking from 4 a.m. until dawn.
Geminids may produce up to 120 meteors per hour on some occasions.
Our annual Planetarium Christmas Program returns this month to the Kent County High School at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17 and again Dec. 20 through 22.
This year’s title “Christmas Signs and Truths” explores the truth about some familiar Christmas traditions, while telling the usual Christmas story and blending in a good dose of astronomical stars and treats.
We invite our community to come out and see what will be our 34th Christmas program, highlighting the work of our Kent County High School astronomy and radio station students, and accepting it as our holiday gift to everyone.
Add it to your own annual Christmas tradition.
May God bless all of you — skywatchers — one and all. Merry Christmas!