Mars, meteors and a conjunction

After several attempts at getting a good shot of Mars with a new camera, I managed to capture a so-so image last week. You can see the south polar ice cap and portions of Syrtis Major, the dark band just shout of the equator. Due to atmospheric turbulence caused by mountain winds, clear and cold nights are not typically good for planetary imaging. The one night I had moderate success was a bit warmer with high humidity than normal.

On the meteor front, there are two upcoming showers. The Leonids are dust particles left over from when Comet-55P/Tempel-Tuttle passed across Earth’s orbit. It’s not one of the stronger showers with rates of only 15 per hour. Since the moon will not be visible you may see some away from lights. Meteors should be visible from November 6th-30th with a peak in the morning of November 17th. Since they will appear to come from the direction of the constellation Leo the Lion, best time to view are just before sunrise as Leo is rising in the south.

The best shower of the year will be the Geminids which peak on December 13th. You can see up to 100 meteors per hour from a dark site. Best times to view will be from 11 PM on the 13th to 1 AM on the morning of the 14th. Unlike most showers, the Geminids are not associated with any comets but with dust shed by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon which may be the icy remains of a once active comet.

Another December astronomical highlight will be the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Conjunctions are just when two objects appear from our viewpoint on Earth to come very close. From now till December the 21st they will be getting closer in the southwestern sky just after sunset. They will also be getting lower each day so by the 21st you will only have a couple of hours between sunset and when they set at 8:30.

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