By Dec. 7, Saturn and Venus appear much closer, and early next week, Venus appears to skirt the ringed planet. On Dec. 10-11, Venus is within two degrees of Saturn, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Late in the month, the young sliver of a new crescent moon moves toward Venus. Find them in the southwest in the early evenings of Dec. 27-28. The skinny moon gains heft and moves past the glorious Venus by Dec. 29.
If your favorite number is 12, you’re in luck — on the East Coast. The moon reaches its full phase after midnight Dec. 12 at 12:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Officially, the moon reaches full at 5:12 a.m. Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time), which means that if you’re in Central Time, for example, the moon reaches full phase Dec. 11 at 11:12 p.m.
The Geminid meteors peak Dec. 13-14, according to the American Meteor Society, with a shower as heavy as 150 shooting stars an hour. (The Royal Astronomical Society forecasts the peak at 120 meteors an hour.) Regardless, on Dec. 13-14, the plump gibbous moon beams all night and washes many meteors out. The following night, the moon remains bright. You may see a handful of meteors, at best.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth strikes the leftover dust trails of comets gone by. In the Geminids’ case, it is asteroid Phaethon 3200 dispensing the dust. Earth’s atmosphere strikes the debris and we get a light show.
The Ursids are a smaller meteor shower with about 10 shooting stars an hour that peak Dec. 21-22. The parent comet for the Ursids is 8P/Tuttle, named for Horace Tuttle, a late-19th-century Naval Observatory astronomer.
On the other side of the world, an annular eclipse — the “ring of fire” kind, where the moon doesn’t quite fit in front of the sun — will occur Dec. 26. Astronomy webcaster Slooh.com will feature live feeds of the event starting at 9:30 p.m. EDT on Dec. 25 (Christmas night). The centerline of the eclipse passes through the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. For more information, visit eclipsewise.com.
On Earth’s annual trip around the sun, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, so that we reach the winter solstice — when winter officially starts — Dec. 21 at 11:19 p.m. EST, according to the Naval Observatory.
* Dec. 5 — The University of Maryland Observatory’s open house features a review of undergraduate astronomy research. Afterward, savor the night heavens through telescopes, weather permitting. At the observatory, College Park. 8 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
* Dec. 5 — “The Day We Found the Universe,” a talk by science journalist Marcia Bartusiak of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and astronomer John Mulchaey of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Find out how a young Edwin Hubble learned nearly a century ago about galaxies beyond the Milky Way. At the Carnegie Institution for Science’s lecture hall, 1530 P St. NW, Washington. 6:30 p.m. Live stream and registration at carnegiescience.edu.
* Dec. 8 — “Getting Started in Astrophotography,” a talk by astrophotographer Kevin Quin. At the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club meeting, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m. novac.com.
* Dec. 14 — “A Cometary Fossil Inside an Asteroidal Meteorite,” a talk by Larry Nittler of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Lecture at the National Capital Astronomers’ regular meeting, held at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
* Dec. 20 — “Gravitational Dynamics: From Apples to Black Holes,” a talk by astrophysicist Erez Michaely at the University of Maryland observatory, College Park. Enjoy the night sky through telescopes afterward. 8 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.