Astronomical SIGHTS in a SKY NEAR YOU!

Graphics c/o Starry Night Education

This page updated Dec 12, 2018.

See also the HOME page or COMING EVENTS .

VIS. COMETS page has more details and finder charts for currently visible comets.

The Planets for December 2018/January 2019:

Venus is the obvious Morning Star in December and January. Mercury is closer to the Sun but takes up the role of second Morning Star this winter. Jupiter is also in the morning sky and sits between Venus and Mercury just above Antares for a time.

Both of the gas giants,
Uranus and Neptune are well up in the south by dark and continue to be good viewing this winter. Both are past their respective oppositions. Mars is still reasonably bright and noticeably gibbous in a telescope ands traverses the gap between Neptune and Uranus over the December to February time span. It is right beside Neptune Dec 7 and right beside Uranus Feb 12.

Saturn passes behind the Sun in early January but may still be visible (with difficulty) in early and mid-December. By mid-Jan, it becomes visible as a morning star and it is passed by Venus (1 degree apart) on Feb 18. Only Mars is well up (50°!) in the evening sky above the SW horizon and it will continue to be high for several months shining as a faint reddish star at magnitude 1.

Dwarf planet, Pluto is in Sagittarius and will not be visible until spring when the Sun leaves the vicinity. Even still, it will be visible only in moonless sky and with larger telescopes. Finder charts are found on our CHARTS/FORMS page. (2019 coming soon).

December 2018/January 2019 Sky Sights

Dec 1 to 16, 2018 Week before New Moon -Look for Comet Wirtanen
The week before and after new Moon (Dec 7) is a good time to try for Comet Wirtanen in a dark sky free of interference from moonlight. Wirtanen rises by the time it is dark and stands on the meridian around midnight well before the Moon rises. On Dec 1, Comet 46P will be in Eridanus below Cetus above the southern horizon and it is visible until the Moon comes up in the wee hours of the morning. The Moon is absent on Dec 7 and in the second week of Dec, sets before the comet gets into dark sky . By Dec 14 or so, a gibbous Moon is present not far from 46P and for dark skies, you need to wait for it to set. After that, a bright Moon drowns out the comet until after Christmas Day when the comet rises ahead of the last quarter Moon. Then another period of dark sky ensues for another two weeks into the beginning of January 2019. Check WEBLOG for more about Wirtanen.

Wirtanen Dec 13-17
Comet Wirtanen passes between the Pleiades and Hyades Dec 15 and 16 -a nice photo opportunity

Dec 13/14, 2018 Gemini Meteor Shower (120/h. Moon 41%)
If it wasn’t for cold weather, this meteor shower would be the one to observe. Yes, the Perseids this year occurred during NM so you couldn’t beat them but those August meteors had a smaller hourly rate (90/h) than the Geminids at 120/h. Note that these numbers are called Zenithal Hourly Rates because they are under ideal condition: no clouds, radiant at zenith and no Moonlight. There is a fat crescent Moon (41%) just one day or so before FQ so it interferes for a time on Thursday night Dec 13. But by midnight, the Moon sets and from then on into the morning hours of Friday Dec 14, the sky should be moon free. Cloud free is another story. Technically, the peak of the shower happens around 7 am on Dec 14 (RASC Obs. Hnbk), so prime observing time is Friday night Dec 13/Sat morning Dec 14. The radiant of the shower is near Castor will be highest (76°) 2 am Dec 14, so the ideal time to observe will be the morning of Dec 14. More info about this shower will be available soon on the WEBLOG. All the info you could want and then some (analysis of the 2017 Geminids) is available here:
Meteor News Geminids

Sky &Telescope chart shows the radiant of the Geminids on the morning of Fri Dec 14, 2018

Dec 21, 2018 Mercury 0.8° N of Jupiter
Mercury and Jupiter follow Venus into the morning sky and are closest together this morning with a separation of less than a degree. Venus is well up in the SE and is 2.5 hours farther along the ecliptic when Mercury and Jupiter clear the horizon, only a hour ahead of sunrise. Mercury was farthest east of the Sun Dec 15 and is hurrying back towards Sol when it passes Jupiter who is going the other way, away from the Sun. Eventually Jupiter and Venus meet as well (mid Jan 2019). Today is also the winter solstice and the Sun starts climbing in elevation in our sky, having reached a mere 21°58min above the southern horizon for Owen Sound.

Jupiter Merc Vwnus Dec 21

Jan 1 to 4, 2019 Crescent Moon passes Venus, Jupiter, Mercury in dawn sky
The waning crescent Moon slides down the ecliptic towards the eastern horizon from Jan 1 to Jan 4 and as it does so, it passes the three brightest planets in the sky right now. On Jan 1 look for the 4.2 day-old crescent Moon to be 4.5° from Venus (shining brightly at -4.5 magnitude). The next night the Moon is between Venus and Jupiter, then on Jan 3, it can be found 3.5° from Jupiter (magnitude -1.8) and by Jan 4, the crescent now only 1.4 days-old sits about 3° above Mercury (magn. -0.5) in the brightening dawn sky. Diagram below is for 7:15 am and planet positions are for Jan 1. Venus and Mercury change location somewhat during the interval.

Jan 1-4 Cres + Ven Jup Merc

Jan 3, 2019 Quadrantid Meteors (120/h, NM)

The Quadrantid meteor shower occurs under ideal conditions this year with respect to moonlight, but not, of course with respect to temperatures! The Moon is a thin 3% and rises well after the peak of the shower Thursday night Jan 3 at 9 pm. (Peak time is 2:00 UT Jan 4 so subtract 5 h for EST to get Jan 3 at 9 pm). Look for the meteors to originate from the head of Bootes where the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis (the wall quadrant as made by Tycho Brahe) used to be. Remember to bundle up!


Jan 20/21, 2019 TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE!

The last January eclipse (Jan 31, 2018) was clouded out locally, but we get a second chance at seeing one on the evening of Jan 20, morning of Jan 21. And this time clouds better clear since the next good total lunar eclipse is not until May 2021 and then we get another in November the same year!

As in other lunar eclipses, note that the penumbral contacts (P1 and P4) will not be visible, and the eclipse starts when the darker umbra contacts the Moon, i.e., U1 (10:34 pm) and ends at U4 (1:51 am Jan 21). Middle of the eclipse is 12:12 am Jan 21. Totality is from 11:41 pm Jan 20 to 12:43 am Jan 21. In past eclipses, the umbral darkening was visible several minutes before the official time, because that shadow edge is not actually as sharp as the diagram shows.


Here are the official times from Fred Espenak’s website :

P1 = 9:36 pm EST Jan 20 Penumbral eclipse starts (not visible)
U1 = 10:34 pm EST 1st contact (look for shadow upper right)
U2 = 11:41 am EST Jan 21 Totality starts (entire Moon covered!)
U3 = 12:43 am EST Totality ends (bright sliver starts at upper left of Moon)
U4 = 1:51 am EST 3rd contact (partial ends eclipse essentially over)
P4 = 2:48 am EST Penumbral eclipse ends -not visible. Moon

Greatest eclipse occurs at 12:12 am Jan 21 and the duration of the umbral phase of the eclipse is 62 minutes.

Imaging the eclipse is interesting and this one will be well placed in our sky for wide angle images showing the entire eclipse in one shot. Hints on imaging the eclipse cane found here:

Jan 30 to Feb 2, 2019 Crescent Moon near Jupiter, Venus, Saturn
Look for a repeat of the crescent Moon near three planets in the dawn sky and this time Saturn replaces Mercury (which is transferring over into the evening sky). Jan 30 sees the Moon 6.5° from Jupiter, Venus is 2° left of the Moon on Jan 31, then on Feb 2, Saturn is 3° above the Moon, now only a 2-day old crescent. Diagram from Starry Night below shows the 4 day-old crescent Moon nearest to Venus Jan 31, 2019, (2°) at 6:45 am EST.

NOTE: The Moon moves noticeably in an evening and it actually gets closer to Venus as the evening progresses. By moonset, the separation will be about 0.7° or about 40 minutes of arc. Moon and Venus are in daylight from 7:43 am until moonset at 1:58 pm or so in the west. Both objects should be visible, Venus at -4.5 and Moon at -10 probably even to the naked eye.

Jan 31 Moon in East Ven Jup Sat

A summary of the entire 2019 year of ASTRONOMY events can be found here:
coming soon
An astronomical calendar for 2018 (with diagrams of sky sights like those above) will be available soon for download from Alan Dyer's website here: (look at the bottom of the "about Alan" page). Or here: Amazing Sky Calendar 2019