A monthly look at astronomical events in the sky and on Earth
Compiled by Steve Sawyer
Hi, welcome to the last Whats up of 2023, and early seasons greeting from me!
It’s nearly time to dust of the Christmas decorations and start dropping present hints for the latest astronomy gadgetry. There’s a few ideas below. The book links are to Amazon and will generate a small commission which I’ll pass onto the society.
This month we can look forward to Dave’s Christmas lecture on the 8th December (don’t miss it). I’ve added a few links to some James Web online resources.
In the night sky this month we can look forward to the annual Gemminid meteor shower, the winter solstice, followed by the Ursid meteor shower. Not forgetting the sight of Santa and his reindeer in the night sky on the 24!
Christmas Gift Guide
Books & Guides
Follow the progress of constellations throughout the seasons with this beautiful companion to the night sky from Astronomy experts Collins.
From the UK’s Number One Astronomy publisher, this is the bestselling stargazing handbook to the planets, stars and constellations visible from the northern hemisphere. With 6 pages for each month covering January–December 2024.
From the number one Astronomy publisher, this book showcases the most spectacular space photography, taken from locations across the globe. Marvel at the wonders of the universe captured by the most talented astrophotographers.
Be captivated by 140 winning and shortlisted images from the 2023 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, hosted by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. These awe-inspiring images are submitted in several categories: Skyscapes, Our Sun, Galaxies, Our Moon, Aurorae, Planets, Comets and Asteroids, People and Space, Stars and Nebulae. Plus Best Newcomer, Image Innovation and Young Competitor categories. Each image is accompanied by caption, photographer, location and technical details.
Only 628 people in human history have left Earth. This is their story.
Astronaut Tim Peake traces the lives of the remarkable men and women who have forged the way for humanity beyond Earth, from Yuri Gagarin to Neil Armstrong, from Valentina Tereshkova to Peggy Whitson.
‘This book is brilliant – once in a blue moon. A book for the whole family.’ Chris Evans, Virgin Radio
‘An extraordinary book. For anyone – even if you’re not interested in Space. If you’re interested in human stories and the human character – this is delightful.’ BBC Breakfast
A US based auction house has a number of mission flown collectable items up for grabs these aren’t cheap but they are unique!
Get yourself a full working NASA spacesuit
And for those who truly have everything, for around 250K put something into orbit via SpaceX
James Webb Resources
As a compliment to Dave’s Christmas talk, you can download the RAW data from the James Webb telescope by going here :
Click on advanced search
In the mission box pick JWST (or the mission that you’re interested in) and then in the filter pick the name of the object you want to download
Click search in the top left corner and you’ll see a list of image files you can download.
Note Each FITS image is over 5GB in size, and may crash your image editor!
You can then (hopefully) open the RAW file in your photo editor and produce your own images using data from an $8 billion dollar telescope.
So what’s on this month?
|2nd||Possible Andromedids meteor shower (see below for details)|
|3rd||Possible Andromedids meteor shower(am) Moon near Regulus|
|5th||Last Quarter Moon|
|8th||Moon near Spica|
|9th||Moon near Venus (am)|
|10th||Moon below Venus (am)|
|13th||Geminids meteor shower|
|17th||Moon near Saturn|
|19th||First Quarter Moon|
|22nd||Winter Solstice and Moon near Jupiter|
|24th||Moon between Aldebaran and Pleiades. Plus Santa and reindeer|
|30th||Moon near Regulus|
Looking South on the 15th at 22:00
Looking North on the 15th at 22:00
The two charts above show all DSOs of magnitude 6.0 or brighter. They are both taken from
SkyViewCafe.com and correct for the 15th of the month. For a clickable list of Messier objects with images, use the Wikipedia link.
Again this month the sun is very active with the sunspot count currently around 150. Multiple CME’s are forecast for the end of November/ beginning of December. These could cause G2 class geomagnetic storms and give us another chance of seeing low latitude auroras.
For more info on the sun and solar weather look here : –
A bit US centred but still useful
And our own Met-office have an excellent space weather forecast page here Space Weather – Met Office
Decembers moon calendar from Sky View Café (skyviewcafe.com)
Decembers full Moon has many names from different cultures
- Long Night’s Moon: This name comes from the fact that December nights are long and the moon is above the horizon for a long time1.
- Moon Before Yule: This name is used because the full moon occurs before Yule, which is a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples2.
- Oak Moon: This is another name for December’s full moon2.
- Wolf Moon: This is a Celtic name for the December full moon2.
- [Drift Clearing Moon, Frost Exploding Trees Moon, Hoar Frost Moon, Little Spirit Moon, Mid-winter Moon, Moon of the Popping Trees, Moon When the Deer Shed their Antlers, Snow Moon, and Winter Maker Moon are among many other names for December’s full moon.
I rather like the frost exploding trees moon (North American Cree native peoples) , but wouldn’t want to live where that event occurs!
This month Lunar feature looks at Tycho it’s a easy crater to find and makes for a good Christmas first scope/family viewing target.
Tycho is located in the southern hemisphere of the Moon’s near side and measures about 85 kilometres in diameter. The rays are best viewed during a full moon when they can be seen stretching out across the lunar surface. However, if you want to see more detail of the crater itself, including its central peak and terraced walls, it’s best to view it during the first quarter of the moon, when shadows can enhance the contrast and reveal more detail due to the angle of sunlight.
You won’t get this view via a scope, this is from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LROC)
Go here https://quickmap.lroc.asu.edu/ for a full zoomable moon
See the sky diary for this months lunar events as there are some nice viewing opportunities .
A full yearly lunar calendar can be found here :-
Mercury can be found very low in the south-west just after sunset, shining at mag -0.4 and setting around 5pm. Fades into the twilight mid month but can be found again at the end of the month.
Morning object, rising around 4am and very easy to spot at mag -4.1. Venus is paired with the Moon on the 9th.
Not visible this month
Shining brightly at mag -2.7 and can be easily seen all evening Jupiter is still very well placed for viewing this month.
Saturn can be found high in the southwest and sets around 10pm so is more of an evening target this month. The Moon will pass nearby on the 17th.
Well placed for viewing this month being just past opposition and hight in the sky. Shining at mag +5.6 and is located in Aries
An evening planet and can be found in Pisces at mag +7.9
The Geminids can be one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year and are known for producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at their peak.
The shower runs annually from December 4th to December 17th, and in 2023, it is expected to peak on the night of December 13th and the morning of December 14th.
However, the best time to watch the shower is usually around 2 AM, when its radiant point — the constellation Gemini, from which the meteors appear to emanate — is highest in the sky.
The Geminids are unique because the meteors are not sourced from a comet, as with most other meteor showers, but from an asteroid: the 3200 Phaethon. The particles from 3200 Phaethon that cause the meteor shower are about 1,000 years old. Unlike other meteor showers that tend to have shorter streaks, the Geminids often present longer streaks in the sky, providing a brilliant and prolonged show.
I’d never heard of this meteor shower before, but there might be a rare chance to spot some of these meteors on the nights of the 2nd/3rd of December.
The Andromedids meteor shower is associated with Biela’s Comet. The showers occur as Earth passes through old streams left by the comet’s tail . The comet was observed to have broken up by 1846. The breakup led to particularly spectacular showers in subsequent cycles, particularly in 1872 and 1885.
Since the 19th century, the Andromedids have faded so substantially that they are no longer generally visible to the naked eye, though some activity is still observable each year. This year the Earth passes through debris that the comet shed in 1649!
These are the other viewable comets this month, the ones listed below start at mag 7 and go to mag 13.
|C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)||12|
|C/2022 E2 (ATLAS)||13|
|29P/Schwassmann- Wachmann 1||13|
Deep Sky (DSO’s)
This month its the turn of Gemini
Gemini represents the mythical twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology. These twins had the same mother, Leda, but different fathers, making Castor mortal and Pollux immortal. They were said to be very close and shared many adventures in various myths.
The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux, named after the mythological twins. Pollux is an orange-hued giant star, while Castor is actually a complex star system made of six stars grouped in three pairs.
Mekbuda (Zeta Geminorum)
A variable star that pulsates, changing its brightness over a period of about 10 days. Mekbuda is a yellow giant star, and its variability makes it an interesting target for observation.
Wasat (Delta Geminorum):
This is a double star, with the primary being a subgiant star and the secondary a dwarf star. It’s interesting for amateur astronomers because the two stars are relatively close to each other, providing a good challenge for observation with a small telescope.
Tejat (Mu Geminorum)
Tejat is a red giant star, and it’s notable for its deep red color, which is visible in small telescopes. It’s a cool and luminous star, located near the foot of the twin Castor.
M35 (NGC 2168)
M35 is a rich, compact open star cluster containing several hundred stars. It’s relatively young in astronomical terms, around 100 million to 150 million years old, and spans about 24 light-years across. M35 can be found near the foot of the twin Castor, it’s located in the northwestern part of Gemini. Visible with the naked eye under good conditions, M35 is a fantastic sight through binoculars or a small telescope. It appears as a bright, dense starry patch.
This cluster is older and more distant than M35, with which it is often confused due to their proximity in the sky. Estimated to be around 2 billion years old, NGC 2158 is much denser and more compact than M35. It’s best viewed through a medium-sized telescope, as it appears as a faint, tight group of stars.
### Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392)
Also known as the Clownface Nebula, it resembles a human face surrounded by a furry hood when viewed through a telescope. The nebula is formed from the outer layers of a dying star that were ejected into space. The Eskimo Nebula can be seen with a small telescope, but larger telescopes reveal more detail.
### Jellyfish Nebula (IC 443)
-This is an expanding shell of gas and dust formed from a supernova explosion and is believed to be around 3,000 to 30,000 years old. It’s challenging to observe visually but can be captured in long-exposure astrophotographs, where it reveals a complex structure.
ISS and other orbiting bits
Use the this NASA website for exact timings for York overpasses. York, England, United Kingdom | Sighting Opportunity | Spot The Station | NASA
The following ISS sightings are possible from Monday Nov 27, 2023 through Tuesday Dec 12, 2023
and of course the sky at night magazine!