Home > News > Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2017
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2017 Posted by Guy Pirro on 12/1/2017 12:05 PM
NGC 581 or M103 in Cassiopeia is a fine open star cluster with a prominent red star near the center. Bright blue stars highlight the open cluster. The gas clouds from which these stars condensed has long dispersed. Of the stars that were formed, the brightest, bluest, and most massive have already used up their nuclear fuel and self-destructed in supernova explosions. A 20 million year age for M103 was estimated by finding the brightest main sequence stars that still survive and theoretically computing their lifetimes. In fact, a formerly blue star has recently evolved off the main sequence and is visible above as the red giant star near the cluster center. In general, yellow stars like our Sun are less bright and hence less prominent in open clusters than their massive blue cousins. Light takes about 14 years to cross M103. Although visible with binoculars, M103's distance of 8000 light years makes it appear four times smaller than a full moon. (Image Credit: Hillary Mathis and N.A. Sharp, KPNO 2.1 meter telescope, AURA, NOAO, NSF, NASA APOD)
Welcome to the night sky report for December 2017 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase, so get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard. In the now famous words of James Marshall Hendrix (apparently a fellow admirer of the heavens), "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
Constellations and Deep Sky Objects
Two prominent constellations in the December night sky represent notable individuals of ancient Greek mythology. The great hero Perseus holds the head of Medusa the Gorgon. Located in Perseus is M34, an open star cluster about 1400 light years away from us. Open star clusters are groups of young stars that all formed at the same time within a large cloud of dust and gas. Look for it with the naked eye or with binoculars in a dark sky.
Queen Cassiopeia was punished for her conceit and vanity by being tied to her throne. Cassiopeia's "W" shape makes this constellation easy to identify. Eta Cassiopeiae is a wonderful and colorful double star. Use binoculars or a small telescope to discern its gold and blue hues. M103 in Cassiopeia is a fine open star cluster with a prominent red star near the center. Its fan shape is evident in binoculars.
Lying between Cassiopeia and Perseus is the lovely Double Cluster. This pair of open star clusters is easy to see with binoculars. The Double Cluster resembles a handful of diamonds scattered on black velvet, with a ruby in between.
Mars and Jupiter ascend into the southeastern sky well before the Sun appears. Aim a telescope at the planets to get a better look at their features. Late in the month, dim Mercury peeks above the horizon just before dawn. If you have a telescope that's powerful enough, you might be able to identify the small planet's phase.
The mid-December night sky hosts the lovely Geminid meteor shower. The shower peaks on the night of December 13th to the 14th. Under a dark sky, you could see as many as 60 colorful meteors per hour.
The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."
IC 342 Galaxy C5 IC 356 Galaxy P127 IC 361 Open Cluster P213 IC 3568 Planetary Nebula P128 NGC 1501 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H53-4 NGC 1502 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H47-7 NGC 1708 Open Cluster P129 NGC 1961 Galaxy Herschel 400 H747-3 NGC 2146 Galaxy P130 NGC 2336 Galaxy P70 NGC 2403 Galaxy C7, Herschel 400 H44-5 NGC 2408 Open Cluster P131 NGC 2655 Galaxy Herschel 400 H288-1
IC 10 Galaxy P77 IC 59 Diffuse Nebula P21 - Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula (West) IC 63 Diffuse Nebula P22 – Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula (East) IC 166 Open Cluster P217 IC 1795 Diffuse Nebula P122 IC 1805 Open Cluster P2 IC 1848 Open Cluster P3 IC 1871 Diffuse Nebula P136 NGC 103 Open Cluster P137 NGC 129 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H79-8 NGC 133 Open Cluster P138 NGC 136 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H35-6 NGC 146 Open Cluster P204 NGC 147 Galaxy C17 - Satellite of Andromeda NGC 185 Galaxy C18, Herschel 400 H707-2 Satellite of Andromeda NGC 189 Open Cluster P5 NGC 225 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H78-8 NGC 278 Galaxy Herschel 400 H159-1 NGC 281 Diffuse Nebula P4 Pacman Nebula NGC 381 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H64-8 NGC 436 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H45-7 NGC 457 Open Cluster C13, Herschel 400 H42-1 Owl Cluster NGC 559 Open Cluster C8, Herschel 400 H48-7 NGC 581 Open Cluster M103 NGC 609 Open Cluster P219 NGC 637 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H49-7 NGC 654 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H46-7 NGC 659 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H65-8 NGC 663 Open Cluster C10, Herschel 400 H31-6 NGC 1027 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H66-8 NGC 7635 Diffuse Nebula C11 Bubble Nebula NGC 7654 Open Cluster M52 NGC 7788 Open Cluster P139 NGC 7789 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H30-6 White Rose Cluster NGC 7790 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H56-7 NGC 7795 Open Cluster P23
IC 1898 Galaxy P228 NGC 1084 Galaxy Herschel 400 H64-1 NGC 1232 Galaxy P28 NGC 1291 Galaxy P29 NGC 1300 Galaxy P81 NGC 1332 Galaxy P82 NGC 1407 Galaxy Herschel 400 H107-1 NGC 1535 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H26-4 NGC 1537 Galaxy P229
IC 348 Open Cluster P95 IC 2003 Planetary Nebula P237 NGC 650 Planetary Nebula M76 Little Dumbell Nebula NGC 651 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H193-1 Part of M76 NGC 744 Open Cluster P96 NGC 869 Open Cluster C14a, Herschel 400 H33-6 Double Cluster (West) NGC 884 Open Cluster C14b, Herschel 400 H34-6 Double Cluster (East) NGC 957 Open Cluster P97 NGC 1023 Galaxy Herschel 400 H156-1 NGC 1039 Open Cluster M34 NGC 1220 Open Cluster P238 NGC 1245 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H25-6 NGC 1275 Galaxy C24 Perseus A Seyfert Galaxy NGC 1342 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H88-8 NGC 1444 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H80-8 NGC 1496 Open Cluster P174 NGC 1499 Diffuse Nebula P44 - California Nebula NGC 1513 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H60-7 NGC 1528 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H61-7 NGC 1545 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H85-8 NGC 1582 Open Cluster P45 NGC 1605 Open Cluster P239 NGC 1624 Open Cluster P240
Messier 45 Open Cluster M45 Pleiades Caldwell 41 Open Cluster C41 Hyades IC 1995 Diffuse Nebula P64 NGC 1514 Planetary Nebula P120 NGC 1554 Diffuse Nebula P200 Von Struve's Lost Nebula NGC 1555 Diffuse Nebula P201 Hind's Variable Nebula NGC 1647 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H8-8 NGC 1750 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H43-8 NGC 1807 Open Cluster P65 NGC 1817 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H4-7 NGC 1952 Diffuse Nebula M1 Crab Nebula