BINOCULAR HIGHLIGHTS


I'm breaking with tradition this month because there are specific nights that are best for observing each of the four major compass positions. I'll start with South on December 14 because it's the earliest event compared to the others. Next is West on December 15 followed by East on December 16. The last event will be North on Christmas Eve. I hope the sky is clear enough for you to see all these events as they should look "heavenly!"
Look for the almost first quarter Moon high above the southern horizon on early evening December 14. It will be in close proximity to Mars and Neptune. Scan the sky around the Moon but keep its intense glare out of the field of view of your binocs so you can see Mars above and "maybe" Neptune to the right.
This is a spectacle that you can see during the entire month. I picked December 15 because it's in the middle and (at 7PM) displays all three (Altair, Deneb, and Vega) of the bright summer triangle stars at a decent altitude above the western horizon. It's hard to believe that you can still see this familiar star pattern so late in the Autumn and early Winter.
Find the Pleiades star cluster above the eastern horizon, then look down and slightly left to study what you already may've seen with your naked eyes, Comet Wirtanen. December 16 is the night of predicted maximum brightness for this comet, but it will continue to drift left (northward) while tracking downward toward the horizon as the month wears on. Wirtanen will be just a bit to the left of Capella (the brightest star near the upper left portion of this image) on December 23. During the rest of December and into January, Comet Wirtanen will rapidly dim and dive down to the NNE horizon.
At 7:15 PM on Christmas Eve, the zig-zag constellation Cassiopeia Queen of Ethiopia will be directly above Polaris the North Star. If you scan your binoculars to the right of Cassiopeia, you'll see the famous Perseus Double Cluster. Continue right and slightly up to view the Alpha Persei Star Cluster. Go right and down to find the bright star Capella with fuzzy green Comet Wirtanen below it. Finally, go back to Cassiopeia and continue up and a tad left to relish the Great Andromeda Galaxy M 31.