© 2019 by CNCP

What's Up in SW Florida Skies

December 2019: Planetary Alignment on Display

Thursday, December 5th, SW FL Astronomical Society monthly meeting: 7 pm in the planetarium. Presentation on astronomy, business meeting to follow: whole meeting and presentation is open to the public and free of charge.

Moon Phases December:

5      12      20      26

1Q    Full     3Q     New

Starting out the month of December there's a crescent moon low in the SW at sunset, with Saturn, Venus and Jupiter showing in a line running from upper right to lower left above the SW horizon. These three huge planets orbit in almost the same plane at different distances from the Sun, and so the arc they display in the evening sky is the "arc of the solar system," also known as the ecliptic. From night to night as the moon moves more than 11 degrees per night eastward, it will quickly go from a crescent in the early evening sky to a "half moon" (that's "1st Quarter," officially) many degrees farther east (and therefore "up later" as well), then to full by the 12th. In the meantime, Venus will be positively roaring along, getting noticeably closer to Saturn from night to night until it's level with Saturn on the 10th of December. After that the early evening sky will have Venus farthest from the horizon, Saturn just below and to the right, and Jupiter will get closer and closer to disappearing in the sunset's  glare. By the end of the month, only bright Venus and a very low and faint Saturn will be observable after sunset.

In the SE sky before dawn, brilliant Mercury is zooming along in the early part of December, with sedate butterscotch-colored Mars above and to the right as you face east-southeast, and the bright blue-white star Spica along the same arc as Mercury and Mars (again, that arc of the solar system), although Mercury's orbit has a noticeable tilt that takes it farther off of the ecliptic than most planets. Mercury is so fast in its orbit, however, that if you wait too long to try to see it, it will be lost in the sunrise: see it before the 15th for best results! By December 25th it will have plunged so close to the Sun in our sky that it will be pretty much invisible in the sunrise glare.


December 21 at 11:19 p.m. EST, the sun will reach the point of 'winter' solstice — its southernmost position against the background stars in each year, resulting in the shortest day of the year for we in the northern hemisphere (and yes, even southwestern Florida is far enough north to notice the shorter daylight), which is of course the longest daylight of the year for the southern hemisphere. After the winter solstice, our daily amount of sunlight will increase from Dec 21 through to June 20, 2020, the summer solstice.

Our planetarium shows this month are:

12:00 noon “Phantom of the Universe:" This high-energy planetarium show showcases the exciting exploration of dark matter, from the Big Bang to attempts to create a dark matter particle at the Large Hadron Collider. The show dramatizes the first hints of dark matter's existence through the eyes of Fritz Zwicky, the scientist who coined the term "dark matter," and describes the research of Vera Rubin supporting the existence of dark matter in the Andromeda galaxy. You will zoom around the magnetic miles-long ring of the LHC and plummet deep underground to see the most sensitive dark matter detector on Earth, housed in a former gold mine. From there, you'll learn why the beginning of the internet was so full of astronomy and physics -- that 'net' was how scientists around the world started out collaborating to track down the constituents of dark matter!

2:30 pm: “The Sun, Our Living Star” comes to us from the European Southern Observatories (ESO). The Sun has shone on our world for four and a half billion years. The light that warms our skin today has been felt by every person who has ever lived. It is our nearest star and our planet’s powerhouse, the source of the energy that drives our winds, our weather and all life. Discover the secrets of our star in this 2018 planetarium show and experience never-before-seen images of the Sun’s violent surface in immersive fulldome format. “Winter Stargazing” is an optional addition to this show.

If you are looking for something fun to do in the evening on the weekends of the 6th-8th and 13th-15th in December, LASER SHOWS are back! Friday, Saturday and Sunday, tickets can be purchased at the entrance, or see our Home Page for details/tickets. Holiday Lights will start that second weekend, so you can combine the lights walk and activities with a Holiday Laser show!

To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page.

Hoping to see you soon at the Center,

Heather Preston, Planetarium Director