December 6, 2023

Skywatching Highlights for December: Don’t Miss Comet Leonard and Geminid Meteors

Whats Up for December? Your early night highlights, a possibility to catch a comet, and the annual Geminid meteors.
On December 6th through the 10th, look westward following sundown for the Moon going to Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter in turn. The Moons crescent completes as it appears higher in the sky each night over the course of the week.

The Moon goes by Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter in turn, each night after sunset, December 6-10. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Take pleasure in the view of stunning Venus as the “evening star” while it lasts. Our cloud-covered next-door neighbor planet will sink ever closer to the horizon throughout the month, disappearing for many of us by New Years. Itll reappear in late January as a morning world preceding the sunrise, and wont be back in night skies up until December of next year.
Next in December, theres a recently discovered comet on its way into the inner solar system that might be worth trying to observe. Its known as Comet Leonard, and it will be at its closest to Earth on December 12th, just a number of weeks prior to it reaches its closest range from the Sun.
Sky chart showing the position of Comet Leonard in the east about 2 hours before dawn, December 1-10. Binoculars might be needed to observe the comet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Now, comets are notoriously challenging to predict in regards to brightness and presence. Comet Leonard is predicted to peak at a brightness that will most likely need binoculars to spot it. Theres a possibility it might be bright enough to see with the unaided eye, however once again, with comets, you really never ever understand.
In the very first number of weeks of December, Comet Leonard can be discovered in the east before dawn, passing in between Arcturus and the handle of the Big Dipper. It approaches the horizon right around the time of its closest method to Earth, meaning itll likely be brighter but more tough to observe. It then switches to being a night item after around Dec. 14th, for just a little while after the Sun sets– as it begins its long run outside from the Sun again, progressively fading in brightness.
The Geminid meteors are an emphasize of December skies each year. This years meteor shower peaks overnight on December 13th and 14th.
Sky chart revealing the region of the sky from which the Geminid meteors appear to radiate. This years shower is finest observed after the Moon sets on the morning of December 14. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, which youll find high in the west. Now while many yearly meteor showers are caused by Earth passing through trails of dust-sized particles of comet debris, the Geminids are among the few meteor showers that are caused by particles from an asteroid that crosses Earths orbit– in this case, one called Phaethon.
Just recently, NASA scientists shared findings that suggest the distinction in between a comet and an asteroid might be less clear than we realized, with fizzing salt on Phaethon playing the exact same function as vaporizing ice on comets.
And whether you see Comet Leonard, or meteors from Asteroid Phaethon, both are suggestions of the deep connections in between Earth and the rest of the planetary system that we discover due to the fact that we look outside, and we explore.

Sky chart revealing the position of Comet Leonard in the east about 2 hours prior to sunrise, December 1-10. Binoculars may be required to observe the comet. Comet Leonard is forecasted to peak at a brightness that will probably require field glasses to identify it. Theres a chance it could be intense sufficient to see with the unaided eye, but again, with comets, you truly never know.
In the first couple of weeks of December, Comet Leonard can be found in the east before sunrise, passing in between Arcturus and the handle of the Big Dipper.