Campfire at night in winter

Eyes on the skies — December

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

December brings some of the darkest skies of the year.

Take advantage of this great opportunity to go out into our parks. Breathe in the peace and solitude of December days and the bounty of the starlit skies.

Here are our astronomical highlights for December, 2019:

The sun

The sun completes its apparent southerly drop on the winter solstice on December 21 at 11:21 am. To great celebration, it then begins its northerly rise.

See our post from March to learn more about the solstices and equinoxes.

snowy sunset through trees

Sunrise and sunset times:

December 1 December 15 December 31
Sunrise 7:46 am 8:02 am 8:08 am
Midday 12:15 pm 12:21 pm 12:29 pm
Sunset 4:43 pm 4:41 pm 4:49 pm

The moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. Even a pair of small binoculars will reveal the craters of the moon.

December’s lunar phases are as follows:

  • Waxing crescent on December 1
  • First quarter on December 4
  • Waxing gibbous on December 9
  • Full moon on December 12
  • Waning gibbous on December 15
  • Last quarter on December 18
  • Waning crescent on December 21
  • New moon on December 26

December moon cycle.

The planets

After dazzling the skies for the past several months, Jupiter — the second brightest planet — has finally disappeared from our evening sky.

However, the brightest planet, Venus, is rising and quickly taking Jupiter’s place. Shrouded in bright clouds, Venus reflects a great deal of light from the sun, and is almost nine times brighter than Jupiter.

On the evenings of December 11 and 12, Venus and Saturn will be fairly close together, low in the southwest sky.

Photo of Venus and Saturn in the sky.
Saturn and Venus in the southwest on December 11, 2019. Sky chart images Courtesy of SkySafari 5 Pro

On the night of December 14, look to see the moon and Mars appear close to each other in the sky.

Meteor showers

Most people know about the annual Perseid meteor shower that occurs in the middle of August each year. However, another shower — on par with the Perseids — is significantly less known.

The Geminids, peaking on December 14, is one of the finest meteor showers of the skies. With as many as 120 meteors per hour, it truly deserves some scrutiny.

Two problems prevent most of us from knowing more about this meteor shower. First, it’s freezing out, and many of us put away our outdoor interest when the temperatures drop. Second, it’s often cloudy.

Night sky.

This year, a full moon will make all but the brightest Geminids appear to wash into the moonlight. However, next year, the Geminids occur around new moon.

We encourage everyone to get out and enjoy the night sky. All you need is a reclining chair, insulated sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and lots of hot chocolate!

For a detailed explanation of meteor showers, check out this link.

Featured constellations: Eridanus, Lepus and Monoceros

As we round out the year of constellations, we will focus on some of the fainter ones seen at this time of the year.

Map of the constellations

Learn about Eridanus, Lepus and Monoceros here.

This completes our review of the December skies…

Come back next month to learn about the calendar.