The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center's meadow offers a nice, open view to the night sky.
The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center's meadow offers a nice, open view to the night sky.
Photo by Steve Harris

Look, Up in the Sky, It's Jupiter Over Houston and the Geminids

It's a big month for astronomy nuts, with the Supermoon (perigee) on December 3, the Geminids meteor shower on December 13-14, and the Ursid meteor shower on December 23-24.

There's something about a crisp, December night that makes us look to the stars, and the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is giving us another chance to do just that with its Trees & Stars Winter Celebration. These folks know how to do it up just right, too, with suds from Saint Arnold Brewing Company, warm brew from Katz Coffee, a hot chocolate bar and plenty of festive food. Kids as young as age five are invited, and they'll have holiday craft stations set up indoors.

After the indoor nosh fest, party-goers will take a little bit of a hike and head out to the arboretum's meadow with a nice, open view of the night sky, aided by some local hardcore star nerds. "We have the Houston Astronomical Society out and they set their telescopes out for viewing the stars and planets," says Christine Mansfield, marketing manager for the arboretum. "It's right in between the new moon and the full moon — there will be some light — but hopefully we'll have better visibility."

This time of year we'll have a good chance of viewing Jupiter and average visibility for spotting Mars and Uranus, while Venus will be slightly more difficult to see. But not all of the action is up in the sky. "There's a chance we'll potentially see wildlife. We have a lot of different things," says Mansfield. "In the evenings we do have bats. Owls are a possibility, armadillos, raccoons."

The Trees & Stars Winter Celebration is set for December 9, with December 16 reserved in case of rain. The astronomy charts show that December 9 should give us five evening hours of full darkness, or astro dark, beginning at around 6:47 p.m.

And those who've caught the astronomy bug will want to check out the Geminid meteor shower (nature's "holiday light show"), beginning mid-evening on December 13 and lasting until dawn on December 14. Radiating from near the bright stars Pollux and Castor, the meteors should be plentiful, probably as many as can be seen during the Perseids in August. If the night sky is dark enough, astronomers can catch as many as 50 meteors per hour, with the greatest number falling around 2 a.m.

The Trees & Stars Winter Celebration runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. December 9 (rain date December 16), Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, 4501 Woodway, 713-681-4833, houstonarboretum.org/events/trees-and-stars, $15 to $45.

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