December Shooting Stars & Lunar Eclipse

Mid-December is a great time to see shooting stars blasting forth from the Name A Star Live constellation Gemini!  Also, a full eclipse of the Moon will be visible throughout North America the night of December 20-21.

Shooting Stars

If you’re in the northern hemisphere of Earth, and if weather permits, then over the night of December 13-14 you may get a good view of  the Geminid meteor shower.  (If you’re in the southern hemisphere, then you may notice some shooting stars popping up over your northern horizon over the night of December 14-15.)  The annual Geminid Meteor Shower is one of the two best meteor showers of the year.  The other shower — the Perseid Meteor Shower — occurs in August each year.

Geminid Meteor Shower
The night of Dec. 13-14, look for shooting stars to emanate from the constellation Gemini.

Shooting stars are very tiny meteors – basically, dust particles or small ‘pebbles’ – that burn up in a flash of light as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.  These meteors are leftover bits of comets that have passed by Earth in years past: As comets pass by Earth from time to time, they leave a trail of small debris in their wake.  This debris remains in the solar system.  As Earth revolves around the sun each year, Earth passes through the trails of debris.

To see the shooting stars, all you need is a clear sky (away from city lights), a lawn chair, and some winter clothing if you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

Strictly speaking, the best time to see the meteors will be after the moon sets at around midnight in mid-December: But you should still see some meteors before midnight.   Lay down on your lawn chair or on a blanket and look up.  (If you’re in the southern hemisphere — such as in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina or South Africa — then look toward the northern horizon, not up!)  You don’t need a telescope or binoculars.  You might see several dozen shooting stars per hour!  You should see more and more meteors per hour as the night progresses, until just before dawn.  One caveat, though: How many meteors you can see per hour is pretty much hit-or-miss.  Predicting meteor showers is sorta’ like predicting rain showers: It’s not an exact science yet!  But you should see a number of shooting stars. (Don’t forget to make a wish!)

As you see the shooting stars, try to notice where they are coming from in the night sky.  If you have one of our planispheres, you’ll see that the meteors come from the constellation Gemini.

Enjoy the view … and may all your wishes come true!


Lunar Eclipse

A total eclipse of the Moon will be visible throughout all of North and Central America (local weather permitting) the night of December 20-21 … but you’ll have to stay up late to see it!  A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth’s shadow covers at least part of the Moon’s surface.  A total eclipse occurs when the entire Moon is covered in Earth’s shadow.

Total Lunar Eclipse
The total eclipse of the Moon, February 21, 2008. The Moon does not become completely dark during a total eclipse: Sunlight refracted through the Earth's atmosphere casts an orange glow on the lunar surface.

Observers throughout North America, the Hawaiian Islands, and Central America can see the total eclipse of the Moon from 2:41 a.m. to 3:53 a.m. EST, December 21 (11:41 pm Dec. 20 to 12:53 a.m. Dec. 21 PST).  If you’re in Australia, New Zealand, or east Asia, the eclipse will already be underway at sunset December 21.  Those of you in Europe, western Africa and South America may see a partial eclipse at sunrise the morning of December 21.

Visit for full details.


Seeing planets this month

The mighty planet Jupiter again dominates the night sky this month.  Jupiter is the bright point of light you’ll see toward the south after sunset (towards the north, if you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth): It’s easy to spot.

Venus and Saturn will be in the Name A Star Live constellations Virgo and Libra, respectively, in December.  Both planets are low on the eastern horizon around sunrise in mid-December.  Look for the two planets about an hour before sunrise: Saturn will be above the planet Venus.

Mars is on the other side of the Sun now, so we cannot see the Red Planet this month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.