Planets for the Christmas season
The holiday night skies are brightened this season by four brilliant planets. The moon shines close to Jupiter, Venus, and Mars making them easy to locate. The fourth planet is Saturn and you won’t need the moon to find the ringed planet at its best.
On Monday and Tuesday morning, Dec. 23 and 24, look about one hour before sunrise (7:00 am)) in the WSW sky. The moon will be above and just a bit to the right of Jupiter on Monday, Dec. 23. Then, on Tuesday morning at the same time, the moon will be just above the bright star Regulus.
See Jupiter in the evening hours of Monday December 23 by looking about 5 hours after sunset (10:15 p.m.) in the ENE sky. This time the moon will be hanging below and to the left of Jupiter.
On Christmas Eve Jupiter makes an intriguing telescopic sight. For a period of time, two of Jupiter’s moons will simultaneously cast shadows on the planet. The show starts around 9:00 EST, when Europa’s shadow begins to cross Jupiter’s. Around 11:00 p.m., the moon Io joins the parade. Through a telescope it will look like two shadows marching across the giant planet. The show continues until midnight.
Venus is the impressive “morning star” you’ve been seeing throughout December. Venus is shinning at magnitude-4.6 by the end of the month. That is 7 times brighter than Jupiter, the next brightest planet.
The moon enhances the view of Venus on the mornings of Dec. 29 and 30. On Sunday, December 29, a sliver of the waning crescent moon is 10 degrees (a fist) to the upper right of Venus. On Monday, December 30, the moon drops to 4 degrees to Venus’ right.
Saturn is visible all night during December rising in the east at dusk and setting in the west at dawn. This month, and during December 2003, will be the finest opportunities in decades for viewing Saturn and its rings with a telescope. The bright planet will be the highest in the south around midnight.
Enjoy the long nights of winter and look up towards the celestial sights awaiting you. Wishing you all the season’s beauty and delight. Happy stargazing!