December 10, 2022: The moon is with the Gemini twins overnight. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn continue their nocturnal exposition, forming the plane of the solar system.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, IL: Sunrise, 7:07 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Today’s sunset time is the earliest of the year. This continues throughout the 14e.
Transit time of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 2:01 UT, 11:57 UT, 21:53 UT. Convert the time to your time zone. In the US, subtract five hours for EST, six hours for CST, etc. Use a telescope to see the place. The hours are from Sky & Telescope magazine
It’s the 50e anniversary of the last Apollo lunar mission – Apollo 17. December 10, 1972 was the fourth calendar day of the mission. On this day, the command module/lunar module combination entered the moon’s orbit. Maneuvers were made to adjust the spacecraft’s orbit for the moon landing.
Here is today’s planetary forecast:
This morning, an hour before sunrise, the gibbous moon, 85% illuminated, is about a third of its height in the western sky. It is nearly 10° below Castor, one of the Gemini Twins. Pollux is 4.5° to the left of its twin.
Bright Mars, a few days after its solar opposition, is low in the west-northwest. It is less than 10° above the horizon. Best views occur during the early evening hours when it is higher in the eastern sky.
Venus and Mercury are becoming easier to see, despite being in the bright evening twilight. Seeing them is difficult but getting better. Skywatchers further south can see the planets higher up, a bit later, and in slightly darker skies.
Twenty minutes after sunset, bright Venus is nearly 4° southwest. It is visible through binoculars. Mercury is in the same binocular field of vision, 5.2° upper left of the Evening Star. Hold the binoculars so that Venus is in the lower right part of the field of view. Mercury is at top left.
Find a clear horizon looking southwest. Viewing from a hill or tall structure is helpful. Venus is north along the horizon or to the right of the southwest point. A compass helps find precise directions in this bright twilight to help find the planets.
At this early hour, all five bright planets are in the sky, but difficult to locate in this bright early twilight, especially Saturn, the darkest of the group. In about two weeks, all five planets are visible simultaneously in a darker sky.
One hour after sunset, Venus and Mercury are below the horizon. At this time, bright Jupiter is halfway up the sky above the south-southeast horizon. It is moving east past a dark Pisces star field.
Look early tonight, before the moon rises about two hours after sunset, to see Jupiter and Neptune in the same binocular field of view. They fit perfectly into the field.
Neptune is a dim, bluish star to the west (right) of Jupiter. Place Jupiter near the left side of the view to see Neptune on the right side. See your last views of Jupiter and Neptune together up to 2035 before Jupiter slips out of binoculars’ field of view.
Tonight, two of Jupiter’s large moons – Ganymede and Callisto – are visible through binoculars. They appear as dimmer stars closer to the planet – Ganymede, to the west of Jupiter, and Callisto, to the east of the planet. Perhaps Europa is visible between Callisto and the planet.
Saturn is further west, moving east ahead of the stars in eastern Capricorn. Through the binoculars, the Ringed Wonder is 2.0° top right of Nashira and 2.6° top left of Iota Capricorni (ι Course on the chart).
Notice the star Fomalhaut, meaning “southern fish mouth”, and Deneb Kaitos, “sea monster tail”, below this pair of planets.
At this time, Mars is about 15° above the east-northeast horizon. He continues his demotion in front of Taurus. The line of sight from Earth to the planet continues to move west as Earth moves away from the slower-moving Red Planet.
Mars is 8.4° top right of Elnath, the northern horn of the constellation, and 9.3° top left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in the pattern. With the moon still below the horizon, look for the Pleiades star cluster, above Mars and the main stars of Taurus.
About two hours after sunset, the moon is pointing above the east-northeast horizon. The three bright planets are along an arc of the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. Bright Jupiter is halfway up in the south, while Mars is about a third of the way up in the east, and Saturn is over 20° to the southwest.
Three hours after sunset, the gibbous moon, 82% illuminated, is nearly 10° up east, 3.2° right of Pollux.
By tomorrow morning, Mars is low in the west-northwest. The moon is always close to the Gemini twins.
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