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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2018

Posted by Guy Pirro   12/03/2018 12:30AM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2018


Few star clusters are seen to be so close to each other. Some 7000 light-years away, this pair of open star clusters is an easy binocular target, a lovely star field in the constellation Perseus. Visible to the unaided eye from dark sky areas, it was cataloged in 130 BC by Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Now known as NGC 869 (above right) and NGC 884, the clusters themselves are separated by only a few hundred light-years and contain stars much younger and hotter than the Sun. In addition to being physically close together, the clusters' ages based on their individual stars are similar -- evidence that both clusters were likely a product of the same star-forming region. (Credits: NASA and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - JPL) (Image Credit: F. Antonucci, M. Angelini, and F. Tagliani - ADARA Astrobrallo)



Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2018

Welcome to the night sky report for December 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Saturn’s iconic rings are clearly visible with backyard telescopes in early December. Mercury and Venus appear later in the month. Also look for Eta Cassiopeiae, a double star, with binoculars or a small telescope to discern its gold and blue hues. Finally, don’t miss the mid-December Geminid meteor shower. You could see as many as 60 colorful meteors per hour. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

Look for Saturn low in the southwestern sky at dusk, early in the month. Its iconic rings are clearly visible with backyard telescopes in early December. But by the middle of the month, the planet slips into the glare of the Sun.

Mars glints red in the southwestern sky against the stars of Sagittarius. Modest telescopes readily reveal its ocher disk. As the Earth-Mars distance increases throughout the month, it grows steadily smaller and dimmer in the sky.

Two prominent constellations in the December night sky represent notable individuals of ancient Greek mythology. The great hero Perseus holds the head of Medusa the Gorgon. Located in Perseus is M34, an open star cluster about 1,400 light-years away from us. Open star clusters are groups of young stars that all formed at the same time within a large cloud of dust and gas. Look for it with the naked eye or with binoculars in a dark sky.

Queen Cassiopeia was punished for her conceit and vanity by being tied to her throne. Cassiopeia’s “W” shape makes this constellation easy to identify. Eta Cassiopeiae is a wonderful and colorful double star. Use binoculars or a small telescope to discern its gold and blue hues. M103 in Cassiopeia is a fine open star cluster with a prominent red star near the center. Its fan shape is evident in binoculars.

Lying between Cassiopeia and Perseus is the lovely Double Cluster, NGC 869 and NGC 884. This pair of open star clusters is easy to see with binoculars. The Double Cluster resembles a handful of diamonds scattered on black velvet, with a ruby in between.








Look for Venus blazing in the eastern sky before the chilly December sunrise.

In the middle of the month, diminutive Mercury joins Venus in the morning sky, popping briefly above the eastern horizon before the Sun. A modest telescope will show both disks in their moon-like phases, as we see only part of their sunlit sides.

The mid-December night sky hosts the lovely Geminid meteor shower. The shower peaks on the night of December 13 to 14. Under a dark sky, you could see as many as 60 colorful meteors per hour.








The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."



Constellation: Camelopardalis

IC 342                          Galaxy                         C5

IC 356                          Galaxy                         P127

IC 361                          Open Cluster               P213

IC 3568                        Planetary Nebula          P128

NGC 1501                    Planetary Nebula           Herschel 400 H53-4

NGC 1502                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H47-7

NGC 1708                    Open Cluster               P129

NGC 1961                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H747-3

NGC 2146                    Galaxy                         P130

NGC 2336                    Galaxy                         P70

NGC 2403                    Galaxy                         C7, Herschel 400 H44-5

NGC 2408                    Open Cluster               P131

NGC 2655                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H288-1


Constellation: Cassiopeia

IC 10                            Galaxy                        P77

IC 59                           Diffuse Nebula              P21 - Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula (West)

IC 63                            Diffuse Nebula             P22 – Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula (East)

IC 166                          Open Cluster               P217

IC 1795                        Diffuse Nebula              P122

IC 1805                        Emission Nebula           P2 Heart Nebula

IC 1848                        Emission Nebula           P3 Soul Nebula

IC 1871                        Diffuse Nebula              P136

NGC 103                      Open Cluster                P137

NGC 129                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H79-8

NGC 133                      Open Cluster                P138

NGC 136                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H35-6

NGC 146                      Open Cluster                P204

NGC 147                      Galaxy                         C17 Satellite of Andromeda

NGC 185                      Galaxy                         C18, Herschel 400 H707-2 Satellite of Andromeda

NGC 189                      Open Cluster                P5

NGC 225                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H78-8 Sailboat Cluster

NGC 278                      Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H159-1

NGC 281                      Emission Nebula            P4 Pacman Nebula

NGC 381                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H64-8

NGC 436                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H45-7

NGC 457                      Open Cluster                C13, Herschel 400 H42-1 Owl Cluster

NGC 559                      Open Cluster                C8, Herschel 400 H48-7

NGC 581                      Open Cluster                M103

NGC 609                      Open Cluster                P219

NGC 637                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H49-7

NGC 654                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H46-7

NGC 659                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H65-8

NGC 663                      Open Cluster                C10, Herschel 400 H31-6

NGC 1027                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H66-8

NGC 7635                    Diffuse Nebula              C11 Bubble Nebula

NGC 7654                    Open Cluster                M52

NGC 7788                    Open Cluster                P139

NGC 7789                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H30-6 White Rose Cluster

NGC 7790                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H56-7

NGC 7795                    Open Cluster                P23


Constellation: Eridanus

IC 1898                        Galaxy                         P228

NGC 1084                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H64-1

NGC 1232                    Galaxy                         P28

NGC 1291                    Galaxy                         P29

NGC 1300                    Galaxy                         P81

NGC 1332                    Galaxy                         P82

NGC 1407                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H107-1

NGC 1535                    Planetary Nebula           Herschel 400 H26-4

NGC 1537                    Galaxy                         P229 


Constellation: Perseus

IC 348                          Open Cluster               P95

IC 2003                        Planetary Nebula          P237

NGC 650                      Planetary Nebula          M76 Little Dumbell Nebula

NGC 651                      Planetary Nebula          Herschel 400 H193-1 Part of M76

NGC 744                      Open Cluster               P96

NGC 869                      Open Cluster               C14a, Herschel 400 H33-6 Double Cluster (West)

NGC 884                      Open Cluster               C14b, Herschel 400 H34-6 Double Cluster (East)

NGC 957                      Open Cluster               P97

NGC 1023                    Galaxy                        Herschel 400 H156-1

NGC 1039                    Open Cluster               M34 Spiral Cluster

NGC 1220                    Open Cluster               P238

NGC 1245                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H25-6

NGC 1275                    Galaxy                        C24 Perseus A Seyfert Galaxy

NGC 1342                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H88-8

NGC 1444                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H80-8

NGC 1496                    Open Cluster               P174

NGC 1499                    Diffuse Nebula             P44 - California Nebula

NGC 1513                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H60-7

NGC 1528                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H61-7

NGC 1545                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H85-8

NGC 1582                    Open Cluster               P45

NGC 1605                    Open Cluster               P239

NGC 1624                    Open Cluster               P240


Constellation: Taurus

Messier 45                  Open Cluster               M45 Pleiades

Caldwell 41                 Open Cluster               C41 Hyades

IC 1995                        Diffuse Nebula           P64

NGC 1514                    Planetary Nebula         P120

NGC 1554                    Diffuse Nebula            P200 Von Struve’s Lost Nebula

NGC 1555                    Diffuse Nebula            P201 Hind’s Variable Nebula

NGC 1647                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H8-8

NGC 1750                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H43-8

NGC 1807                    Open Cluster               P65

NGC 1817                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H4-7

NGC 1952                    Diffuse Nebula              M1 Crab Nebula



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