Peculiar Presence Of Planets


Dr. Rishi Shah

The night skies of this month would enchant avid sky-gazers with the peculiar presence of all planets and with mysterious marvels of meteor shower and enigmatic entities of the heavens.  Mars would dramatically dominate the night sky this month.

The planets Mercury and Venus could be manifested after nightfall in south-western sky after almost the second-half of the month. They would be close to each other and would be mingling with shimmering stars of constellation Sagittarius (archer). Furthermore Mercury would reach greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on 21 December. 

It would be staying high above the western horizon in the evening sky after sunset. The red planet Mars's orbit around the Sun would carry it to its closest point to the earth (dubbed its perigee) passing within 80.78 million kilometers to us.

When it would be nearest to earth on 01 December, it would be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be more coruscating than any other time of the year and would be visible all night long, thereby offering Mars-enthusiasts the best time to view and photograph Mars. Through telescopes many dark details on the planet's orange surface could be relished. 

Mar At Opposition

However, Mars would be coincidently at opposition on 08 December, when it would be lying opposite to the Sun and earth would trudge between Mars and the Sun. It would be entering the north-eastern sky at around 05:34 PM. It would climb highest in the south-eastern sky at about 11:50 PM. It would then become inaccessible around 06:07 AM on following day, when it would sink towards western horizon. Mars at opposition would also make rendezvous with its immediate approach to the earth. 

It would look brightest and largest. Even then it could be distinguished in reality as fascinatingly fulgent star-like dot of light through normal telescopes. At the moment of opposition, Mars would be sheer 82.28 million kilometers and be residing comfortably in zodiacal constellation Taurus (bull). Alluring giant star Aldebaran (Rohini) could be admired below Mars, It would be circa 65 light-years away from us.

Mighty planet Jupiter and its major mesmerizing moons could be perceived in south-eastern sky after sundown. It would be going up in the southern sky with the progressing night. It would be dropping towards the western horizon after mid-night.

It could be well noticed in the vast barren-akin cosmic expanse below the comely star-studded circlet asterism of the constellation Pisces (fishes). Far-flung bluish planet Neptune would be gleaming gloriously to the right of Jupiter. It would be glimpsed after dusk in southern sky. It would be evanescing in southern sky by mid-night. It could be affirmed among the stars that describe the eastern corner of constellation Aquarius (water bearer). The resplendent ringed planet Saturn could be ascertained in south-western sky after evening twilight till late at night. It could be discerned among the stars that reveal the upper side of the triangle-mimicking constellation Capricornus (sea goat). 

The superb giant star Nashira would be located below Saturn, which would be approximately 157 light-years from the Sun. Its traditional moniker as derived from the Arabic language would roughly mean the lucky one or the bearer of pleasant news.

The distant planet Uranus could be recognized in eastern sky after night-begin. It would be ascending the southern sky till before mid-night. It would then be descending in the western sky after mid-night. It could be watched among faint stars glistening in aridly aloof celestial southerly realm of the compact constellation Aries (ram).

The full moon would befall on 08 December. It has been popularly nicknamed cold full moon because during this time of the year the cold winter air would settle in and the chilly tenebrous nights would become long. The new moon would betide on 23 December. Christmas would be celebrated on 25 December. We would sadly bid farewell to the year 2022 on 31 December.  

The Geminid meteor shower would be producing up to whooping 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak, which would be seen this year on the night of the 13 till the morning of 14 December. Geminids would allegedly originate from the debris left behind by an arcane asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which had been identified in 1982. The shower would generally run annually from 07 to 17 December. 

The waning gibbous moon would block dim meteors this year. Geminids would still display numerous luminous streaking shooting stars to provide us with glamorous good show. The prolific Geminids has been plausibly caused by the queer bluish asteroid-alike 3200 Phaethon with quirky rock-comet track of fairly 583 days. 

In Greek mythology Phaethon was the son of the Sun deity Helios. The meteors from this shower would be slow moving, but with big intensity for excellent performance that would probably transpire during wee hours at around 02 to 03 AM when the radiant would be flying loftily in the sky after rising reluctantly above eastern horizon.

They appear to rush out from the radiant-point nestling near the iconic star Castor (Kasturi) in constellation Gemini (twins) and hence bestowing the shower's name. Confounding Castor has been detected to be sextuple star-system organized into three binary pairs. It would be merely 51 light-years away. Geminids would remain active until the breaking of the dawn. 

Meteor Showers

The shower has been escalating currently. The meteors would travel at medium speed of about 35 kilometers per second making them relatively easy to witness. The Geminids have been now considered as the most consistent and agile annual shower. 

Geminids would putatively disintegrate above 39 kilometers in earth’s atmosphere. 3200 Phaethon had been disclosed on images taken by IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite) by Simon Green and John Davies. 

The Japanese spacecraft DESTINY+ (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for Interplanetary Voyage with Phaethon Flyby and Dust Science) would be perhaps launched in 2024 to visit this asteroid in 2028. Meteor showers would arise when earth would wander through streams of dusty dregs left behind in the wake of comets and asteroids. 

The December solstice would occur on 21 December. The South Pole of the earth would be tilted toward the Sun, which would have arrived at its southernmost place in the sky and would hover directly over the tropic of Capricorn at 23.5 degrees south-latitude.

It would herald the first shortest day of winter (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first longest day of summer (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.

It would mark the day when the Sun during its yearly journey through the constellations of the zodiac would come to its most southerly spot in the sky in the constellation Capricornus. At solstice, the Sun would slide overhead at noon when observed from locations on the tropic of Capricorn. Solstices eventuate because the axis of the earth's spin alias its polar axis would be slanting at an angle of baffling 23.5 degrees to the solar orbital plane. As earth would circle around the Sun, its line of sight to the Sun would race regularly in rhythm through the constellations of the zodiac. 

North Pole 

Sometimes the earth's North Pole would be leaning towards the Sun (in June). At other times it would be inclined away from it (in December), thus oddly generating the earth's seasons. The earth would revolve around the Sun once every 365.242 days. 

This would be the time period over which the cycle of solstices and equinoxes (equal day and night duration) and consequently all the earth's seasons, would repeat from one year to the next. In any year which would not questionably be the leap year, the solstices would be ensuing simply 05 hours and 48 minutes (quaintly less than one quarter of a day) delay from one year to the subsequent year. 

Therefore the seasons would drift later in the year, if it would not for an additional day being inserted into every fourth year on 29 February. When the Sun would obviously outreach its most southerly position in 2022, it would be relaxing remarkably but zanily in puny 

tea-pot resembling zodiacal constellation Sagittarius (archer).

(Dr. Shah is an academician at NAST, Patron, Nepal Astronomical Society or NASO)

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