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Night Sky Observing Guide for December 2012 (Gallery)

December 2012 Last Quarter Moon

Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 10:31 a.m. EST. The last or third quarter moon rises around 11:30 p.m. and sets around 12:15 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

December 2012 New Moon

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 3:42 a.m. EST. The moon is not visible on the date of new moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after new moon.

December 2012 First Quarter Moon

Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, 12:19 a.m. EST. The first quarter moon rises around 11:45 a.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

December 2012 Full Moon

Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 5:21 a.m. EST. The full moon of December is called the oak moon. Other names are frost moon, winter moon, long night’s moon, and moon before Yule. In Hindi it is known as margashirsha poornima. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is unduvap. The full moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

December 2012: Jupiter at Opposition

Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 9 p.m. EST. Jupiter is directly opposite the sun and, as a result, shines brightly all night long. Because Jupiter is above the horizon for longer than its rotation period, it is possible to watch an entire rotation of the planet in one night. Jupiter joins a circle of seven of the brightest stars in the sky: Sirius, Procyon, Pollux, Castor, Capella, Aldebaran, and Rigel, with Betelgeuse at its center.

December 2012: Mercury at Greatest Elongation West

Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, dawn. The best morning apparition of the year for the elusive planet Mercury. Venus and Saturn will point to the tiny glimmer of Mercury, best seen about an hour before sunrise.

December 2012: Vesta at Opposition

Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, 3 a.m. EST. Now that Ceres has been promoted from an asteroid to a dwarf planet, Vesta has become the largest and brightest of the asteroids. Tonight, at magnitude 6.2, it is slightly too faint to be visible naked eye, but is an easy object in binoculars.

December 2012: Venus and the Moon

Tuesday, Dec, 11, 2012, dawn. The slender waning crescent moon passes just below Venus, with Mercury nearby.

December 2012: Geminid Meteor Shower

Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, midnight–dawn. One of the finest meteor showers of the year, without a moon to block the view.

December 2012: Ceres at Opposition

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 4 a.m. EST. Once the largest asteroid, Ceres has now been reclassified as a dwarf planet. At magnitude 6.6, it is an easy target in binoculars. Notice that Ceres is close to Vesta in the sky. The Dawn spacecraft, after spending nearly 14 months studying Vesta, left on September 5 to rendezvous with Ceres in February 2015.

December 2012: Jupiter and the Moon

Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 7 p.m. EST. The moon will pass just south of Jupiter soon after moonrise in the eastern sky. The two brightest star clusters in the sky, the Hyades and the Pleiades, are nearby.

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