Astronomy News for the Month of December 2019

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An Open Invitation

For amateur radio operators and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League's WØWYX 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WBØWDF Cripple Creek 447.400 MHz repeater and Allstar node 28368. We are also linked via Echolink - canoncty - courtesy of KØJSC and KØGUR. More information on the WBØWDF repeater links and Allstar nodes and Echolinks can be found at We are also linked with Allstar nodes in Florida as well, courtesy of KA4EPS. The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

Obtain your Amateur Radio (Ham) License or your General Radio Operator's License (GROL)! Visit the South Metro VE Team website for more information. The South Metro VE Team provides test sessions on the 1st Saturday of each month at our new Eagle Street Facility, The City of Centennial, 7272 South Eagle Street, Centennial, Colorado 80112-4244 at 9am.

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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
of the JPL Solar System Ambassador/NASA Outreach program.

For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador website.
(Click on the logo to link to the JPL SSA homepage.)

In this Newsletter...

Background screen credits: NGC5775
Imaged March 21/22, 2001
using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope
as part of the Kitt Peak Advanced Observing Program.

The Month At-A-Glance
A calendar displaying the daily astronomical events.

The Moon and Santa

The Moon



Moon/Planet Pairs

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of ~0.5°.

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The Planets & Dwarf Planets

Planetary Reports generated by "TheSkyX" software. These reports provide predicted data for the planets for the first of each month for the current year. The rise and set times for the Sun and the Moon for each day of the month as well as meteor shower radiants are also included in the reports. These reports have been optimized for the Denver, Colorado location, however, the times will be approximate for other locations on Earth.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for December

Venus, Jupiter and Saturn line up in the early evening during the first part of the month. Uranus and Neptune follow close behind, but are much dimmer than their closer neighbors and can be spotted well into the late evening. Mars and Mercury are visible before dawn. An annular eclipse will be visible for observers in southern Asia and Indonesia as well as Guam.The Geminids meteor show peaks midmonth but the full Moon will interfere with all but the brightest. Wait until the 22nd to watch the peak of the Ursids meteor shower when the Moon is barely a thin crescent.


Rises at 5:19 a.m. on the 1st and about 7:06 a.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury low to the southwest about 30 minutes before sunrise early in the month when it will be highest in the sky. Mercury moves from the constellation of constellation of Libra into constellation of Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude -0.6 on the 1st.


Sets at 6:24 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:31 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus soon after sunset to the southwest throughout the month. Venus continues to rise higher in the evening skies making it easier to spot. Venus moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Capricornus shining at magnitude -3.9 on the 15th.

Earth The Winter Solstice occurs at 11:19 p.m. EST on the 21st.

Rises at 4:26 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:08 a.m. by month's end. Mars continues to rise earlier making is easier to view in the morning sky before dawn. Look to the east about an hour before sunrise to spot Mars. Mars is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 1.7.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 27th. Jupiter sets at 5:56 p.m. on the 1st and sets with the Sun on the 27th. After conjunction, Jupiter returns to the morning sky, rising about 7:06 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter rapidly descends towards the western horizon this month, so try to spot Jupiter during the first two weeks of December. Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -1.8.


Sets at 7:20 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:34 p.m. by month's end. Look to the south-southwest about an hour after sunset to spot Saturn. Saturn is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.6.


Sets at 4:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:03 a.m. by month's end. By the time the Sun sets and the skies darken, Uranus is high in the south around 9:30 p.m. local time. Uranus is in the constellation of Aries shining at magnitude 5.7.


Sets at 12:11 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:07 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune to the southwest early in the evening. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets


Sets at 6:09 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:04 p.m. by month's end. Ceres still trails Jupiter by a few minutes but is much dimmer compared to Jupiter and will be lost in the evening twilight glow. Ceres is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 9.1.


Sets at 7:32 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:35 p.m. by month's end. Pluto still trails Saturn by just a few minutes, but like Ceres, is too dim to see and is lost in the evening twilight glow of sunset. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.4.

As always, good luck at spotting Neptune, Ceres and Pluto, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The Geminids - This shower is active during the period December 6 to December 19. Upon reaching maximum activity during December 13 to 14, hourly rates are typically near 80. The meteors are described as rapid and yellowish, with about 4% displaying persistent trains. They possess an average magnitude of 2.4.

    This year, the waning gibbous Moon will interfere with all but the brighter meteors from this shower.

  • The Ursids - Occurring primarily between December 17 and 24, this meteor shower reaches maximum on December 22... The maximum hourly rate is usually between 10 and 15, except in 1945, when rates exceeded 100. Meteors belonging to this stream are typically faint.

    This year, meteor experts are predicting a possible surge of up to 30 meteors per hour, so bundle up and brave the cold night to see this one.

    Meteor Shower Radiant Report

    For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers Online web page.

    Meteor Scatter (or Meteor burst communications) - "is a radio propagation mode that exploits the ionized trails of meteors during atmospheric entry to establish brief communications paths between radio stations up to 2,250 kilometres (1,400 mi) apart." Tune your shortwave or your HF amateur radio to 54.310 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings. Try other frequencies as well... 6m FT8 digital - 50.313 Mhz & 50.276 Mhz, JP-65 digital mode and the carrier frequencies of the lower VHF bands for TV channels 2, 3 & 4.

  • Comets

  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2017 T2) should glow around 9th or 10th magnitude this month. This comet spends most of this month passing through the constellation of Perseus, which passes nearly overhead during the evening hours this month. If you have a 4-inch telescope or larger, scan the skies on the evening of the 14th or 15th and look for the star cluster NGC 1548. Under low power, both the comet and the cluster should be in the same field of view.

  • For information, orbital elements and ephemerides on observable comets, visit the Observable Comets page from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

    For more information about Comets, visit Gary Kronk's webpage.

  • Eclipses

    Solar Eclipses

    An annular solar eclipse will occur on the 26th for observers in southern Asia, Indonesia and Guam. The eclipse begins over the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, crosses the southern tip of India, passing over Indonesia and then heads out over the Pacific. The eclipse begins at 02:29:53 UTC and ends at 08:05:40 UTC. Maps and timings at the link below.

    December 26 Annular Eclipse

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Jupiter, Venus and Saturn in the early evening sky soon after sunset.
  • Follow Neptune and Uranus in the late evening and early morning.
  • Look for Mars and Mercury in the early morning before sunrise.
  • Watch the Geminid and Ursid meteor showers.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Eunomia is in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Amphitrite is in the constellation of Pisces.
    • Metis is in the constellation of Pisces.
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Cetus (in the tail).
    • Astraea is in the constellation of Cancer.

    • Information about the Minor Planets can be found at the Minor Planet Observer website.

    IOTA Logo

  • Information on various occultations can be found by clicking the IOTA logo.
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    Subscriber Gallery

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    Member Meteor Sightings

    This is a new section where I will post meteor, fireball, etc sightings that have been published on the American Meteor Society's web site. I want to make this an active section of the web pages and newsletter and would like to publish the links to member sightings. If you have any published sightings, please provide me with the links and I will post them here for all to enjoy.

    Event ID Date/Time Location Observer Link
    3587-2015 2015-11-22 17:38 MST CO Kevin S 3587aw
    3829-2015 2015-12-05 18:06 MST Highlands Ranch, CO Burness A 3829a
    3871-2015 2015-11-13 01:55 MST CO Charles N 3871a

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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)

    JPL Latest News
    The Latest from Space

    JPL Latest News

    November 27, 2019
    NASA's Briefcase-Size MarCO Satellite Picks Up Honors

    Full Article & Images

    "Aviation Week & Space Technology is bestowing a prestigious Laureate award on NASA's pair of briefcase-size Mars Cube One spacecraft. Known as MarCO, they're the first CubeSats - compact spacecraft made up of cube-shaped units - to travel into deep space.

    Designed and built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as a technology demonstration, MarCO launched to the Red Planet last year with NASA's InSight lander. Using experimental radios and antennas, the pair relayed signals back to Earth that enabled InSight's team to observe the spacecraft's Nov. 26, 2018, entry, descent and landing on Mars in near real-time."

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions.

    For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador web site.

    Juno - November 7, 2019
    Jovian Vortex View

    Full Article & Images

    "Juno captured this stunningly detailed look at a cyclonic storm in Jupiter's atmosphere during its 23rd close flyby of the planet (also referred to as "perijove 23").

    Juno observed this vortex in a region of Jupiter called the "north north north north temperate belt," or NNNNTB, one of the gas giant planet's many persistent cloud bands. These bands are formed by the prevailing winds at different latitudes. The vortex seen here is roughly 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide."

    Images from NASA's JunoCam.

    More information on the Juno mission is available at: Juno and Mission Juno.

    The public can follow the Juno mission on Facebook and Twitter.

    New Horizons - November 26, 2019
    New Horizons Team Earns Sir Arthur Clarke Space Achievement Award

    Full Article & Images

    "The team that captivated the world with its exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt received the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for International Space Achievement at the recent British Interplanetary Society Reinventing Space Conference 2019 Gala Dinner in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The New Horizons mission team and its Principal Investigator Alan Stern were jointly selected for outstanding achievements in space over the past many years."

    New Horizons gallery

    Find New Horizons in the iTunes App Store here.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission - the first mission to the ninth planet - visit the New Horizons home page.

    Dawn - April 10, 2019
    NASA's Dawn Mission Honored by Space Foundation

    Full Article & Images

    "The Space Foundation presented NASA's Dawn mission with the 2019 John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration at the opening ceremony of the foundation's 35th Space Symposium on April 8, 2019.

    Dawn is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Project Manager Marc Rayman of JPL and Dave Gallagher, associate director for strategic integration at JPL, accepted the award in front of about a thousand symposium attendees in Colorado Springs, Colorado."

    A gallery of images can be found online.

    For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page.

    TESS - November 5, 2019
    NASA's TESS Presents Panorama of Southern Sky

    Full Article & Images

    "The glow of the Milky Way -- our galaxy seen edgewise -- arcs across a sea of stars in a new mosaic of the southern sky produced from a year of observations by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Constructed from 208 TESS images taken during the mission's first year of science operations, completed on July 18, the southern panorama reveals both the beauty of the cosmic landscape and the reach of TESS's cameras."

    For more information on the TESS mission, visit the Latest Tess Stories page.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    Mars Daily Weather Report

    Mars on the Go! NASA Be A Martian Mobile App
    If you want the latest news as it happens, try our Be A Martian app.
    Download on Mobile Devices
    Android | iPhone | Windows Phone

    JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.

    Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

    "The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) began in 1948, a decade before NASA. We are the world's only research institute to have sent instruments to all eight planets and Pluto.

    LASP combines all aspects of space exploration through our expertise in science, engineering, mission operations, and scientific data analysis. As part of CU, LASP also works to educate and train the next generation of space scientists, engineers and mission operators by integrating undergraduate and graduate students into working teams. Our students take their unique experiences with them into government or industry, or remain in academia to continue the cycle of exploration.

    LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    LASP/MAVEN - October 2, 2019
    An India-Pakistan nuclear war could kill millions, threaten global starvation

    Full Article & Images

    "A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50-125 million people--more than the death toll during all six years of World War II, according to new research.

    A new study conducted by researchers from CU Boulder and Rutgers University examines how such a hypothetical future conflict would have consequences that could ripple across the globe. Today, India and Pakistan each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, and that number is expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.

    The picture is grim. That level of warfare wouldn’t just kill millions of people locally, said LASP atmospheric scientist Brian Toon, who led the research published today in the journal Science Advances. It might also plunge the entire planet into a severe cold spell, possibly with temperatures not seen since the last Ice Age."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - November 12, 2019
    With Mars Methane Mystery Unsolved, Curiosity Serves Scientists a New One: Oxygen

    Full Article & Images

    "For the first time in the history of space exploration, scientists have measured the seasonal changes in the gases that fill the air directly above the surface of Gale Crater on Mars. As a result, they noticed something baffling: oxygen, the gas many Earth creatures use to breathe, behaves in a way that so far scientists cannot explain through any known chemical processes."

    Follow the Mars Curiosity rover on Foursquare.

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare.

      Mars Rover Landing - Free for the Xbox 360 (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - November 26, 2019
    Global Storms on Mars Launch Dust Towers Into the Sky

    Full Article & Image

    "Dust storms are common on Mars. But every decade or so, something unpredictable happens: A series of runaway storms breaks out, covering the entire planet in a dusty haze.

    Last year, a fleet of NASA spacecraft got a detailed look at the life cycle of the 2018 global dust storm that ended the Opportunity rover's mission. And while scientists are still puzzling over the data, two papers recently shed new light on a phenomenon observed within the storm: dust towers, or concentrated clouds of dust that warm in sunlight and rise high into the air. Scientists think that dust-trapped water vapor may be riding them like an elevator to space, where solar radiation breaks apart their molecules. This might help explain how Mars' water disappeared over billions of years."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - August 23, 2019
    What's Mars Solar Conjunction, and Why Does It Matter?

    Full Article and Images

    "The daily chatter between antennas here on Earth and those on NASA spacecraft at Mars is about to get much quieter for a few weeks.

    That's because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers."

    Daily Mars Odyssey THEMIS Images
    Can be found at the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) website.

    The Odyssey data are available through a new online access system established by the Planetary Data System.

    Visit the Mars Odyssey Mission page.

    Journey to Mars - InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars - November 6, 2019
    Common Questions about InSight's 'Mole'

    Full Article and Images

    "Q: Why can't you pick up the 'mole' and move it to another spot? A: The mole is part of the instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, and was designed to be housed within HP3's support structure. The support structure of HP3 was outfitted with a knob, or "grapple point," that the robotic arm can grasp in order to move it from the lander's deck onto the Martian surface. Designed to be housed within the support structure, the mole itself has no grapple point and was not intended to be grasped or moved.

    Even if the mole could be moved, relocating it would be an unlikely solution. The team is confident that the probe has been unable to dig because the soil doesn't provide enough friction. Anywhere you move the mole near the lander would likely pose the same problem. The strategy of "pinning" -- pressing the robotic arm's scoop against the side of the mole -- compensates for that lack of friction and helped the mole progress downward in early October."

    Interactive selection of raw images taken by the cameras aboard InSight.

    Learn more about the InSight Mission.

    Mars Missions Status

    New Mars missions are being planned to include several new rover and sample collection missions. Check out the Mars Missions web page and the Mars Exploration page.

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    Astronomy Links and Other Space News

    (If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel free to submit it.)

    Green Laser

    Colorado Astronomy Links

    Radio Astronomy Links

    Other Astronomy Links

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    Astronomical Lexicon

    Definitions of astronomical terms. Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

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    UT Logo

    Read the Universe Today Newsletter by clicking on the logo.

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    Acknowledgments and References

    Much of the information in this newsletter is from Astronomy® Magazine (Kalmbach Publishing), JPL mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor Showers - A descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk, Sky & Telescope web pages, and other astronomical sources that I have stashed on my bookshelves.

    The author will accept any suggestions, constructive criticisms, and corrections. Please feel free to send me any new links or articles to share as well. I will try to accommodate any reasonable requests. Please feel free to send questions, comments, criticisms, or donations to the email address listed below. Enjoy!

    More Acknowledgements and References

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