The Planets for December:
A VERY poor month for viewing the major planets, with virtually all "wow" planets being in either daylight sky or in strong twilight at dusk or dawn; only the distant planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are visible all month in dark skies.
Mercury - Mercury is very difficult all month, setting just after the sun in strong twilight at midmonth - in SAGITTARIUS
Venus - the brightest of all planets is low in the west where it remains most of December; however, be prepared for a spectacular quadruple conjunction at the end of December and the first week of Jan. 2017, when Venus climbs eastward in the sky and encounters MARS, NEPTUNE and the thin waxing crescent moon on January 2 right after sunset and the darkness begins to prevail....you do not want to miss this rare conjunction! - in AQUARIUS
Mars - Now just WEST of dim Neptune, the Red Planet is quite distant and is seen as a reddish star just south of overhead at the end of evening twilight, setting in the west about midnight; not a favorable month to be viewing this mysterious world - in CAPRICORNUS
Jupiter - Now rising in the East about 2:30 a.m. local time and overhead about sunrise for most locations. Jupiter begins an exciting apparition for 2017 and is favorably placed throughout the later winter and early spring months. - in VIRGO
Saturn - Not favorably placed for observation in December . - in SCORPIUS
Uranus - distant planet Uranus sets in the west about 2 a.m. local time and is south of overhead by about midnight, It shines at magnitude 5.9, bright enough to spot in good binoculars if one knows where to look; use a good planetarium sky program or GO TO telescope to locate this distant world; by sunrise it is high in dark skies and will show a faint, blue disk in large telescopes - PISCES
Neptune - At only a few degrees due east of bright red MARS - look for faint Neptune in large telescopes at midmonth south of overhead about 10 p.m. local time.(mag. 7.6). - in AQUARIUS
Pluto - at magnitude 14.1, our most distant planet (yes....it is a planet) is setting in western skies at dusk, - only 12 inch and larger telescopes can spot this world visually. - in SAGITTARIUS
METEOR SHOWERS for December 2016:
Observe when the moon does not interfere and attempt to observe AFTER midnight for most meteors to be seen!. However, as with a months and times during the year, observers should always be aware that new sporadic meteor showers can occur at anytime from seemingly unknown sources and radiants. Unfortunately for 2016, the full moon occurs at midmonth, which means that pretty much at least some of these showers are going to be less than impressive in terms of faint meteors.
December 10 - MONOCEROTID meteors - An poor year to explore this minor meteor shower, since the moon will be absent throughout the night during its mid-peak on Dec. 10. Observations throughout the night should reveal several of the brighter members of this elusive meteor shower. Look for these meteors as early as December 1(less moonlight!) and lasting through the 17th. They emanate very close to the Gemini-Monoceros border, rising in the SE sky at dark local time and overhead/south about 1:00 a.m., very favorable for both southern and northern hemisphere observers but only when the moon is not in the sky. In some years up to a dozen meteors per hour can be seen from this shower during moonless nights; the point of radiant is: RA 06h 50m; DEC +10d.
December 10 - CHI ORIONID meteors - like the Moncerotid meteors that peak on the same night, the light from the moon will hamper observations . It is very interesting that the Monocerotid and this shower both peak at nearly the same night....as its name implies, the CHI ORIONID stream has its radiant very near that fairly bright star, and thus the shower members from both showers are hard to differentiate many times; even more interesting is that the Chi Orionid meteors have TWO radiants apparently, one very close to the "horns of the bull" in Taurus and the other further into the constellation of Orion. Strong waxing gibbous moon to interfere this year.
December 11 - SYGMA HYDRID meteors - These emanate from the head of HYDRA the mighty water snake, and are among the swiftest of meteors know, most being seen even in morning twilight. They ARE a bit on the faint side because of their speed, but expect about a dozen an hour in dark skies, which we will have in 2016 due to the strong moonlight at peak this year, not setting until just before dawn. Have you noticed that THESE meteors too, are peaking on the same night as the Chi Orionid and Monocerotid meteors? However, this radiant (RA 08h 32m ; DEC +02 deg) is far to the east (rising about three hours later) than the other two.
December 13-14 - GEMINID meteors - with the moon at near full phase this year, the faithfully rich Geminid Meteors should present a poor show in December since the moon will be in the sky all night, giving bright skies for early evening observations; for those who stay up late and into the early morning hour to view some of the brighter fireballs may reward your efforts. The Geminid shower is normally THE meteor shower for December, producing as many as 60 very white meteors in dark skies...only about 3 % of these meteors leave the characteristic "train" or trail, even when appearing as fireballs; this is a very unusual meteor shower in that it does NOT originate from debris of a spent comet, but rather from the MINOR PLANET "Icarus," a very peculiar asteroid that swings by the earth very closely during some passes. The radiant will rise nearly due EAST at dark and will be conveniently located (for northern hemisphere observers) about midnight; wait until about 10 p.m. this year to view this shower. ON THE SAME NIGHT is a very minor and newer meteor shower, the "LEO-MINORIDS", from Leo Minor; it will rise due east also, but about 8 p.m. and be overhead around 2 a.m. This was discovered by casual stargazers in 1971!
December 16 - PISCID meteors - Found in 1973, about 8 meteors per hour were seen coming from the constellation of Pisces near a distinct radiant at 01h 42m, +09 degrees; few have been seen since, but this year's skies with a nearly full moon in the sky, provides an poor year for sky watchers to "rediscover" this important meteor stream.
December 20 - DELTA ARIETID meteors - If you want one later in the evening, this is IT!; look for about 10 meteors per hour (the moon this year will be a third quarter, but will be rising from the sky during this meteor shower, so this may be an fair showing this year) coming from the tiny constellation of Aries. Overall a good year for this minor shower.
December 22 - URSID METEORS - This meteor shower, coming from within the "Little Dipper" will never rise nor set and you can watch it all night; however, best observations would be about 11 p.m. local time and into the early morning hours. This is a fair year for the Ursid meteors since the moon will be less than last quarter are rising at about 2 a.m.. The meteoroids in this group have origins with the famous Comet Tuttle, and leave many spectacular wakes and smoky trails in their wakes. Up to 20 meteors per hour under dark skies can be seen to any observer looking nearly due north and "up" a bit!