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The Sky This Week from December 11 to 18

The Sky This Week from December 11 to 18

Space

The Sky This Week from December 11 to 18

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Saturday, December 12
There’s a beautiful sight on display for early risers: A delicate 5-percent-lit Moon hangs about 4° above the planet Venus in the predawn sky. Both sit squarely in the constellation Libra, rising in the east. The Moon rises first, around 4:40 A.M.; Venus becomes visible about 30 minutes later. As sunrise comes and goes, our satellite will draw ever closer to the bright planet, which currently spans 11″ and is 91 percent lit.

Later today, from locations in the western U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii, the Moon will occult, or pass in front of, Venus in the daytime sky. By tomorrow morning, the Moon will appear to hang below the planet in the morning sky.

The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point to Earth in its orbit, at 3:42 P.M. EST today. At that time, it will sit 224,795 miles (361,772 kilometers) from our planet.

Sunrise: 7:13 A.M.

Sunset: 4:35 P.M.

Moonrise: 4:40 A.M.

Moonset: 3:10 P.M.

Moon Phase: Waning crescent (5%)

Sunday, December 13

Tonight is the night many observers have been waiting for — the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. The year’s best meteor shower officially reaches its maximum, with a rate of 150 meteors per hour, at 7 P.M. EST, making it ideal for families with children and those with Monday morning commitments. With no Moon in the sky, it’s an ideal opportunity to spot faint meteors as well as brighter ones.

Look for the radiant rising about two hours after sunset, when the constellation Gemini the Twins has cleared the horizon. The radiant sits just northwest of (above) the bright star Castor, the head of one twin. His brother’s head, Pollux, sits just 4.5° to the southeast.

Geminids are relatively slow-moving meteors known for their long, yellow-tinged trains. For the best chance of seeing these trains, cast your eyes about 30° to 60° away from the radiant. The Geminids will continue to put on an amazing show throughout the night and into the morning of the 14th, with the radiant reaching a point overhead for most North American observers around 1 A.M. on the 14th.

Sunrise: 7:14 A.M.

Sunset: 4:35 P.M.

Moonrise: 5:58 A.M.

Moonset: 3:52 P.M.

Moon Phase: Waning crescent (1%)

And if weather or other factors keep you from stepping outside to watch the show, the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias will be broadcasting the Geminids from the Canary Islands, starting at 5:30 PM EST. Check out the livestream below:

Monday, December 14

New Moon occurs today at 11:17 A.M. EST — and with it comes the last total solar eclipse of the year, visible from Chile and Argentina.

The total path length of this eclipse is 9,239 miles (14,869 km), but only 5 percent of this path falls on land. Fortunately, that 5 percent is where the eclipse’s longest duration of 2 minutes 10 seconds occurs, near Sierra Colorada, Argentina, at 4:13 P.M. UT.

Total solar eclipses occur when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, blocking our star from view and allowing us to see its tenuous outer atmosphere, the corona. But another condition must be met — the Moon must be the right distance away from Earth in its orbit to completely cover the Sun. Because the Moon’s orbit is slightly elliptical, if it is too far from Earth when it passes between us and our star, it doesn’t appear large enough to completely block the Sun. When this happens, we see an annular solar eclipse, during which an outer ring of the Sun’s surface remains visible.

Sunrise: 7:15 A.M.

Sunset: 4:35 P.M.

Moonrise: 7:13 A.M.

Moonset: 4:42 P.M.

Moon Phase: New

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