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Monday 5 December 2016  •   6 Birch Moon 2016

Viewing the night sky in Birch Moon 2016

30 November - 29 December 2016

Map of night sky at full moon: 14 December, 00:06 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Birch Moon 2016

On 11 December, Mercury reaches 20.77° east of the sun in the western evening sky, and is visible each evening until it disappears into the sunset around the time of the solstice. The view from the north is poor at the start of the month, but improves as Mercury moves northwards towards the plane of the solar system. The new moon is near Mercury on 30 November and 1 December.

Venus is much brighter than Mercury, and further out from the sunset. The moon passes by on 3 December. Further out still is Mars, which the moon passes on 5 December. On 15 December, Mars moves into the constellation Aquarius. Venus is hot on its heels and, by the end of the month, the two planets have moved much closer together.

Saturn passes behind the sun on 10 December, and at the end of the month may be seen in the eastern morning sky just before sunrise. The very old moon is nearby on the morning of 28 December.

Jupiter rises in the early hours, and brightens during in the month in the morning sky. The moon is nearby on the mornings of 22 & 23 December. On 23 December, it forms a pleasing triangle with Jupiter and the bright star Spica.

On 19 December, for the third time this year, Pluto passes close to Albaldah or Pi Sagittarii, this time 23.5 minutes of arc to the south. The star and the very faint dwarf planet are close to Mercury in the evening sky.

Look out for the Geminid meteors on 13/14 December. The full moon will make them harder to see.

The month ahead: Rowan Moon 2017

30 December 2016 - 27 January 2017

Map of night sky at full moon: 12 January, 11:34 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Rowan Moon 2017

Venus is the bright evening planet. On 2 Jan, see the crescent moon between it and the fainter Mars. Venus gets brighter and more prominent during the month, reaching 47.14°E of the sun on 12 Jan, but then only getting brighter as it swings back in towards Earth. On 1 Jan, Mars passes just 1.2 minutes of arc south of Neptune, best seen (through a telescope) from the Pacific side of Earth at around 06:50 UTC. That evening, as seen from Europe, they will still be less than half a degree apart. As seen from the central Pacific, the moon occults Neptune and Mars on 3 Jan UTC. From Honolulu, the moon occults Neptune from 18:38 to 19:46 on 2 Jan (3 Jan, 04:38 to 05:46 UTC), and from Wake Island, the moon occults Mars from 19:23 to 20:43 on 3 Jan (07:23 to 08:43 UTC). On 12 January, Venus passes 0.4°N of Neptune.

Mercury ventures out into the eastern morning sky this month, approaching the less bright Saturn, but falling back into the sunrise before it can reach it. On 19 January, it gets to 24.13°W of the sun. Neither of Earth’s hemispheres has a great view of the elusive planet, but at least we have Saturn about 12° further out from the sun to guide us. The old moon is near Saturn on the morning of 24 Jan, and Mercury on the morning of the 25th.

Jupiter rises around midnight and shines brightly in the morning sky, gradually heading eastwards in the constellation Virgo, and gradually brightening as Earth moves nearer to it. The moon passes north of Jupiter on 19 Jan.

Look out for the Quarantid meteors on the night of 3/4 Jan, and especially in the early hours.

William Morris
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