The night skies of this month would exhibit the extraordinary enigmas of the giant gaseous planets Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune and their moons, along with the strange stars that are shining in confounding constellations that are spreading all over the heavens. Elusive planet Mercury could be ascertained in the south-western evening sky after sunset until mid-month. It would be mingling with the stars sparkling on the northern side of the constellation Sagittarius (archer). On December 4, Mercury would reach the greatest eastern elongation from the Sun. It could be marvelled at at its highest point above the western horizon after sundown. Planet Venus could be viewed succinctly in the south-eastern sky before dawn. It would fade away at sunrise. It would be venturing through the constellations Virgo (maiden) and Libra (scales).
Planet Mars cannot be witnessed this month. It would be moving in the sun's neighbourhood through the capaciously comfortable constellation Ophiuchus (serpent bearer). The massive planet Jupiter would be observable in the evening in the eastern sky. It would be vaulting towards the southern sky until late in the night. It would then be creeping towards the western horizon after midnight.
It would be glistening in the southern sombre sector of the cute constellation Aries (ram). Pentagon-resembling asterism that would portray the hypothetical head of charismatic constellation Cetus (whale) would be unfurling aptly below Jupiter. The beautifully barred-spiral Squid Galaxy (Messier 77) would be evident in Cetus below Jupiter. It would be oddly 47 million light-years away.
The ringed planet Saturn would be seen in the southern sky after dusk. It would be slinking towards the southern horizon before midnight. It would be sailing in the southwestern section of the significantly sprawling constellation Aquarius (water bearer) and sliding serenely below the variable star Ancha, which is actually 187 light-years away, and above the star Skat, which is scarcely 113 light-years away as well. It would be a peculiar planetary helix nebula, alias the cosmic eye, that would be staring at us from a secretive span of supposedly 655 light-years. It could express the future of our solar system, as our sun could undergo a similar sad fate over five billion years. The far-flung planet Uranus could be glimpsed in the eastern sky after sunset. It would be ascending high in the southern sky till midnight. It would then sink towards the western horizon during the wee hours of the night. To its east, the alluring red giant star Aldebaran (Rohini) would be fulgurating fabulously in the constellation Taurus (bull). It would be circa 65 light-years away. Planet Jupiter would be standing strongly to its west. The blue planet Neptune could be noticed in the southern sky after nightfall. It would be climbing in the southern sky until almost midnight. It would later dive towards the western horizon. It would be distinguished as a dot of light among the stars belonging to the eastern flank of the curious constellation Aquarius and below the arcane circlet-asterism of the constellation Pisces (fish). Constellation Cetus could be commended to the east of Neptune. Variable binary: red giant, wonderful star Mira would be shimmering in Cetus. It would be approximately 399 light-years away.
The new moon would betide on December 12, while the full moon, which would be celebrated as Yomari Punhye, would befall on December 26. This full moon has been culturally referred to as the cold moon because during this time of the year, cold winter air would settle in and the nights would become long and inky. December 31 would bid farewell to the year 2023. The December solstice would occur on December 22. The south pole of the earth would invariably be tilted towards the sun, which would have arrived at its southernmost position in the sky and gleam grandiosely over the tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south latitude. It would herald the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere. We would eerily experience the longest night and the shortest day on this occasion. Solstices happen because the earth's spin axis has been inclined at an angle of practically 23.5 degrees to the plane of its orbit around the sun. The earth would rush around the sun once every 365.242 days, during which the cycle of solstices and equinoxes (equal days and nights) and consequently all the earth's seasons would repeat from one year to the next. The sun would be relaxing cheerfully in Sagittarius on this occasion.
The Geminid meteor shower has been considered a prolific shower, which would proudly present up to 120 multicoloured meteors per hour at its peak in 2023 from the night of December 13 until the morning of December 4. The shower would run annually from December 7 to December 17. The two-day-old waxing crescent moon, five percent lucent, would leave dark skies for not interfering with Geminids but for offering sensational shows of scintillating shooting stars from tenebrous locations after midnight. Meteors would apparently emanate from their radiant detected near the coruscating star Castor (Kasturi) in the constellation Gemini (twins) that would be unfolding uniquely in the eastern sky during evenings and soaring very high during 02 AM local time. Castor would be utterly 52 light-years away. The meteors would burn up in the upper atmosphere, simply 100 kilometres above the earth’s surface. 3200 phaethons would come in the vicinity of the sun and whizz beyond the path of planet Mars. Phaethon had been named after the Greek mythos of Phaëthon, son of the sun deity Helios. Its diameter would indicate a fairly large 5.8 kilometres and an orbital period of 1.434 years. Castor and Pollux (Punerbasu) have been appraised as two heavenly twin stars, giving the constellation Gemini its nomenclature. Orange-hued Pollux would be approximately 34 light-years away. The Japanese spacecraft DESTINY+ (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for Interplanetary Voyage with Phaethon Flyby and Dust Science) would be ostensibly launched in 2024 to visit this amazing asteroid in 2028.
The minor Ursid meteor shower would be unveiling merely 05 to 10 meteors per hour at its climax time, which would be palpable this year from the night of December 21 until the morning of December 22. The shower allegedly originated from dusty grains left behind by comet 8P/Tuttle, which had been recognised by American astronomer Horace Tuttle, who calculated its track of 13.7 years in 1858. The shower would generally manifest from December 17 to 25. The waxing gibbous moon, eleven days old and with a harsh 85 percent illumination, would block out most of the faintest meteors. The moon would set barely three hours before sunrise. Avid meteor shower enthusiasts could still patiently enjoy the streaks of incandescent meteors during the best-looking hours just after midnight from caliginous venues far away from city lights. Meteors would be seemingly springing out from the radiant, which would be residing near the red giant star Kochab nestling in the compact circumpolar constellation Ursa Minor (little bear). Kochab would be roughly 130 light-years away. Companion star Pherkad would depict the imaginary tail of a little bear. It would be perhaps 487 light-years away. These two stars have been acclaimed as the guardians of the legendary Polaris, or the Pole Star (Dhruba Tara). It would be mysteriously 432 light-years away. Captivating comet 62P/Tsuchinshan would make its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) on December 25 (Christmas day) from a berth distance of sheer 190 million kilometers. It would be visible during late night in the eastern sky in the charming constellation Leo (lion), zoom aloft in the southern sky, and be evanescent in dawn-twilight above the south-western horizon. Comet-hunters may require powerful telescopes to relish their sight. The resplendent star Regulus (Magha) would be twinkling below Tsuchinshan, whose orbital period would be putatively 6.18 years. Regulus has a quirky quadruple star system organised into two pairs. It would be remarkably 79 light-years away.
(Dr. Shah is an academician at NAST and patron of NASO.)