“This December brings the Geminids, a comet and a fond farewell.”
Published : Monday, December 10, 2018 | 6:00 AM
So begins Jane Houston Jones, Senior Outreach Specialist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, as she presents a preview of what to expect during the month on NASA’s “What’s Up” video show, which has covered the day and nighttime sky, from sunsets to eclipses, planets, comets and beyond, since 2007.
The “farewell” part is her retirement. Jones is retiring this month after 15 years with JPL working as communication and engagement leader on many NASA Planetary Science missions. Since 2007, she has developed, written and hosted the popular “What’s Up” podcast – a total of 138 episodes.
“It’s been an honor to write and host these monthly stargazing shows for you since 2007,” Jones said. The show will continue next year “with a new voice,” she added.
For December, stargazers could expect to see December’s Geminid meteors peak on the morning of December 14, at 7:30 a.m. Eastern or 4:30 a.m. Pacific, and are active from December 4 through 17. The peak lasts for a full 24 hours, which means meteor watchers around the globe will get to see this spectacle.
Here’s more of “What’s Up”:
If you can see the familiar winter constellations Orion and Gemini in the sky, you’ll see some Geminids. Expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour from a dark sky location but only after the first quarter moon sets around midnight your local time. From the Southern Hemisphere, observers should see fewer but still plenty of medium-speed meteors once Gemini rises above the horizon after midnight local time.
The best observing equipment for meteor watching is “a comfortable chair and your eyes.”
Comet 46P/Wirtanen started to brighten last month but it will be easier to see in December. Comet 46P is a short-period comet with an orbital period of only 5.4 years. Its diameter is estimated to be 3/4 of a mile or 1.2 kilometers across.
On December 16, 46P will be only 7.2 million miles or 11.7 million kilometers from Earth and will reach an estimated naked-eye magnitude of 3 to 7.5.
Catch your last view of Saturn for several months when it’s near the Moon at sunset December 8 through the 10. Then Mars meets up with the Moon December 13 through 15.
From December 24 to 26, catch the Moon above, near, and below Leo’s bright white star Regulus. Year-end brings the Moon near Virgo’s pretty white star Spica from December 29 through 31.
To catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions, visit www.nasa.gov.