Article as first published in The Shetland Times December 2000

December is the start of Winter but with the equinox around the 21st the days also start to get longer.

Sun Moon

Rise Set Rise Set

1 8:41am 3:06pm 12:53pm 8:04pm

15 9:03am 2:56pm 8:22pm 12:15pm

30 9:09am 3:06pm 11:34am 8:19pm

The Moon is Full on the 11th and is New on the 25th. If you go out early in the evening all the sights mentioned over the past months are easily visible. The Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades and the Double Cluster are all easily found with the naked eye and magnificent in binoculars.

From the 21st the Sun is starting to climb in the sky. It appears that the 20th will be our day with the least sunlight, about 3 hours 49 minutes. The Sun rising about 9:08am and setting about 2:57pm.

The long dark nights allow plenty of time to look around the sky and December this year is a month in which to see the planets.

Jupiter and Saturn are in the constellation of Taurus. Easily seen in the East an hour or so after sunset, the bright Jupiter on the left and Saturn to the right.

Venus has started to appear in the evening sky not long after sunset. If you look low to the South about 4pm you will see a bright 'star'. At the beginning and the end of the month the Moon will also be nearby. Yet another opportunity for photographers!

Planet locator

However, if you use binoculars you will be able to see two other planets, Uranus and Neptune. Use the maps to get a feel for where they are. They will be a lot fainter than Venus. Binoculars will show them as stars that do not shimmer and flicker. You will not see a disk as with Jupiter or Venus but they will look that bit different from the background stars. Can see any colour to them? From the maps you will also see that the planets move against the background stars of the constellation of Capricorn.

This will all be occurring about 10 degrees or so above the horizon. There is an easy way to visualise what 10 degrees looks like. Hold your clenched fist out at arms length. The distance from the top of your thumb to the bottom of your little finger is about 10 degrees.

Another way to visualise this is to look at the Sun at midday during this month. It is about 10 degrees above the horizon and in the same direction to look for Venus after sunset. So in the middle of the day you can plan where you want to be to observe the planets later on.

Mars requires observing before the Sun rises and can be seen as the red 'star' just East of South at about 7am. On the morning of the 20th the Moon will be just above it.

Pluto, for those of you with large telescopes is like Mercury this month, too close to the Sun to be seen safely.


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