By Larry Mahon

Agate Ridge Observatory

Comet ISON reached its perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, on Thanksgiving Day at about 11 a.m. PST. It was only about one sun diameter from the sun’s edge from about 11a.m. to noon, too close to observe with any optical aid.

However, as the comet emerged from around the sun, Dec. 2, it broke up and is now just a dust cloud. So, the "comet of the century" did not materialize.

Venus is a bright beacon in the southwest, shining at -4.9 magnitude in early December and doesn’t set until almost three hours after the sun.

It is interesting to view the planet in the twilight with binoculars and see the large very skinny, tall crescent as Venus approaches inferior conjunction with the sun in early January. Some people have seen this with their unaided eyes. The 3-day old crescent moon passes to the upper right of Venus on the evening of Dec. 5.

Jupiter is another bright planet to view this month. It rises around 7 or 8 .pm. as December begins, but rises in the bright twilight less than a half hour after sunset as December ends. By late evening, it dominates the eastern sky as its magnitude brightens to -2.7 this month.

Saturn rises around 5 a.m. as December starts and 1 1/2 hours earlier as it ends. Saturn is pretty low in the southeast, but its rings open up to a glorious 21 degrees from edgewise.

The Geminid Meteor Shower this year will peak on Dec. 13-14. This shower reliably produces about 120 meteors per hour for an observer in a dark sky. The highest hourly rates will occur on the Dec. 13 near 10 p.m. PST.

This year will not be the best for viewing them. The problem is a bright gibbous moon that will not set until 3:53 a.m. PST on Dec. 14. A meteor is a Geminid if its path projects back to an origin point near Castor in the constellation of Gemini. Jupiter is in Gemini this year.

Lying back in a sleeping bag on a lounge chair is a great way to keep warm while watching for meteors, don’t go to sleep though. To do an official meteor count, go to, “Advanced Meteor Observing.”

The sun reaches the December solstice on the Dec. 21 at 9:11 p.m. PST. This is the moment when the sun is farthest south for the year and begins its six-month return north-ward, marking the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Happy viewing.

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