December 2015 – Stargazing

December is a great month for stargazing, with dark, crisp nights providing a perfect backdrop to the Geminids, the ISS and glorious starry skies. Isn’t it time you stopped and looked up?

Track the ISS (or is it Santa?)

The International Space Station (ISS) will make several bright passes above the UK – on an almost daily basis between 9th and 24th December – that’ll be visible to the naked eye if the skies are clear. Not only that, Tim Peake will be the first British ESA astronaut onboard the craft. Tim’s launch date is 15th December and he’ll be spending around 6 months in space. Follow @astro_timpeake and his #Principia mission on Twitter.

Got youngsters eagerly awaiting Christmas deliveries? You could use your imagination and think of the multiple passes of the ISS through the month as trial runs for Santa’s dash around the world. On December 24th it will whoosh across the South West to South South West UK sky around 17:20 in the space of just under 2 mins – the last time it’ll be seen overhead from these shores till February 2016.

Times for the ISS can change at short notice, but you’ll be able to track it on Heavens Above.

Winter Solstice

The December Solstice (Winter Solstice) is on Tuesday, 22 December 2015, 04:49 in Glasgow.

The Geminids – Meteor Show

Between the 7th and 16th of December you might be able to spot the Geminids, though the peak is 13th into the 14th. The Geminids originate from an asteroid (3200 Phaethon) unlike most other meteor showers we experience which are the remnants of comets. On a good night, there’s likely to be 100+ meteors per hour.

The Night Sky

Get your bearings by finding Polaris (the North Star). The Plough (also known as the Big Dipper) is an asterism of 7 stars that look like a saucepan that’ll guide you to Polaris. Polaris appears stationary with the rest of the sky revolving around it and it’s direction will lead you almost due North. Behind you is South when facing it, to your right is East and to your left, West. It’s not the brightest star in the sky, but certainly one of the most useful for navigation.

The ‘W’ of stars that form the core of the constellation, Cassiopeia helps stargazers point towards the Andromeda galaxy, some 2.4 million light years away from us – it’s the farthest object you can see with the unaided eye. Given good clear skies, away from the city lights you should be able to make out the fuzzy blob of the galaxy without binoculars or a telescope.

The overhead night sky from Glasgow, UK at midnight on 11th December 2015. Made using Stellarium

The overhead night sky from Glasgow, UK at midnight on 11th December 2015. Made using Stellarium

Sunrise and Sunset times, Glasgow

  • 3rd December 2015 – Sunrise 07:27 Sunset 16:33

  • 11th December 2015 – Sunrise 07:44 Sunset 16:17

  • 18th December 2015 – Sunrise 07:58 Sunset 16:05

  • 25th December 2015 – Sunrise 08:12 Sunset 15:56

All the times listed above are local to Glasgow.

Moon Phases

  • Third Quarter – 3rd December 2015, 07:40

  • New Moon – 11th December 2015, 10:29

  • First Quarter – 18th December 2015, 15:14

  • Full Moon – 25th December 2015, 11:11

Times listed above are local to Glasgow.

Be sure to look up often and enjoy your stargazing this December!

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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