The Night Sky This Week

Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.

What You Can See In The Night Sky This Week: December 12-18, 2022

Here comes one of the astronomical highlights of the annual calendar—the Geminid meteor shower. It’s an intriguing event. It’s caused by dust and debris being left in the inner solar system by Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Yes—an asteroid! Most meteor showers are caused by comets, but the Geminids are also notable for being both prolific and for providing stargazers with red, green and blue-ish “shooting stars.”

The Moon’s presence after midnight is unwelcome, but there should still be some action to watch from the northern hemisphere’s best (though also possibly its coldest) meteor shower.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022: Geminids meteor shower

Typically a highlight of the annual stargazing calendar, relatively strong moonlight will dull the post-midnight peak of this year’s Geminids meteor shower, with its 100-120 or so “shooting stars” per hour likely to be very tricky to see—though if you’re out stargazing you may see some particularly bright meteors.

Sunday, December 18, 2022: Moon and Spica

If you’re up in the early pre-dawn hours look southeast and you’ll see a waning gibbous Moon—just 29%-lit—close to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo.

Constellation of the week: Orion

The return of Orion to the night sky makes winter a special time for stargazers. Containing some of the very brightest stars in the night sky, Orion’s unmistakable “Belt of Orion” (or the “Three Kings”) contains three blue supergiant stars—Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Use binoculars to find Orion’s “snake”—an S-shape curl of stars between Alnilam and Mintaka.

Now find its four corner stars: reddish Betelgeuse at top-left and, alongside it, Bellatrix. On the other side of the belt is Saiph and Rigel, bottom-left.

Object of the week: M42

That fuzzy patch close to Orion’s Belt is M42, a stellar nursery that’s home to newborn stars about 1,300 light-years distant. It’s visible to the naked eye and particularly bright if you look just to the side of it. It looks incredible in binoculars.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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