Welcome to Ontario Parks’ “Eyes in the Skies” series. This will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.
December brings some of the darkest skies of the year.
Take advantage of this great opportunity to go out to our parks. Breathe in the peace and solitude of December days and the bounty of starlit skies.
Here are our astronomical highlights for December 2023:
Many people believe that on the winter solstice, usually around December 21, we experience the earliest sunset and latest sunrise.
However, while the solstice marks the sun’s lowest point in the sky at solar noon and the day with the least amount of light, the earliest sunset always occurs at the beginning of the month and the latest sunrise usually occurs. It occurs at the beginning of January.
This year, for a viewer at 45 degrees north, the earliest sunset occurs around December 10. That means that, starting December 11, our sunsets occur later each day until they peak in June.
The sun completes its apparent southward fall on the winter solstice on December 21 at 4:48 p.m.
See our March post to learn more about the solstices and equinoxes.
Sunrise and sunset times:
The moon has long captivated observers of all ages.
The lunar phases for December are as follows:
The planets appear at night
The outer planets continue to put on a beautiful show and set earlier each night.
At sunset, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Uranus, and Mars are visible in the night sky, and Jupiter and Mars are quite bright!
For more information about Mars, check out this blog post here.
For more information on the two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, see our blog post here.
December has two meteor showers of note: the Geminids and the Ursids.
The Geminid meteor shower, which peaks from the night of December 13 to the morning of December 14, is one of the best annual meteor showers to watch.
In any year and on a moonless night, the Geminid meteor shower usually surpasses the much more famous Perseid shower in August. However, due to the low temperatures and often cloudy skies of December, it is much less known.
This year, the Geminid meteor shower occurs near a waxing gibbous moon, which will light up the sky and obscure many meteors until the early hours of the morning.
The Ursid meteor shower peaks on the night of December 21, near the new moon, but it will be a fairly weak meteor shower and will produce no more than 10 meteors per hour at best.
Featured constellations: Eridanus, Hare and Monoceros
As we complete the year of constellations, we will focus on some of the fainter ones seen this time of year.
Learn about Eridanus, Lepus and Monoceros here.
This completes our review of December skies…
Check back next month for the schedule.