December 19, 2022: Before sunrise, the crescent moon approaches Scorpio’s pincers. After sunset, try to spot the five bright planets after sunset.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, IL: Sunrise, 7:14 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:22 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight reached the shortest time interval of the year, nine hours and eight minutes. Last sunrise time (7:18 a.m. CST) begins on the 28the and lasts until January 10e.
Transit time of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, when it is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 4:28 UT, 14:24 UT; December 20, 0:20 GMT. 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. On December 19, 1972, the crew returned to Earth. The Command Module with Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt landed in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA’s mission summary stated: “The Apollo 17 mission was the most productive and trouble-free mission flown, and represented the culmination of continued advancements in hardware, procedures, training, planning, operations and scientific experiments.”
This ended a phase of human space exploration that placed 12 humans on the moon for brief visits.
Here is today’s planetary forecast:
There are no bright planets in the sky this morning. An hour before sunrise, the crescent moon, 19% illuminated, is about one-third (30°) its height in the south-southeast, 11.6° lower left of Spica .
The moon shows a burst of earth on its nocturnal part. Sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds and land softly illuminates the lunar night.
Notice the Scorpion claws, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, about 10° lower left of the crescent moon. This is the brightness of the stars of the Big Dipper.
At this time, Scorpio appears to be climbing across the southeastern horizon. Today, the pincer stars belong to Libra. Scorpio’s front, Dschubba, is nearly 10° above the horizon. Antares, the heart, makes its first morning appearance, known as the heliacal rising, in a few mornings.
Start looking for the display of the five planets. Venus and Mercury are low in the southwest during brighter twilight. At this time, the challenge is Saturn. Not as bright as Jupiter or Mars, this outer planet becomes visible about 45 minutes after sunset.
Find a clear horizon, looking southwest. 24ethe evening crescent moon joins the view with the two inner planets.
Tonight, 30 minutes after sunset, bright Venus is about 5° above the southwest horizon to the right of the southwest point. While the planet is close to the horizon, it is bright enough to be seen without the optical assistance of a binocular, in this level of twilight, but it may need to be found initially.
One technique I use is to move – walk towards or away from the suspected location of the planet to see it relative to a nearby tree or building. If you find it, you can show it to a skywatching companion by referencing the planet to the terrestrial feature. The accompanying photo above shows the planet referenced to a tree.
Mercury is 5.7° upper left of Venus. Both fit easily into the same binocular field of view. The planet is quite bright. Can you see it without the binoculars?
Saturn is over 30° upper left of Mercury and the same distance above the south-southwest horizon. It’s not bright and probably not visible without optical assistance like this twilight level.
Point the binoculars in the general direction to slowly scan the sky up and down or left and right, in a pattern with an overlapping binocular field of view – a grid search.
Over the next few minutes, the sky darkens further and Venus and Mercury are lower in the sky. Saturn could be visible during this interval, depending on the clarity of the sky. If so, look for Mercury and Venus in the southwest, Jupiter in the south-southeast, and Mars in the east-northeast.
Fifteen minutes later, 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury is lower in the southwest and Venus is very low, almost lying, but theoretically visible due to its glow.
Saturn is easily visible to the south-southwest and bright Jupiter is to the south-southeast – about halfway up (45°) in the sky.
Mars is to the east-northeast, more than 20° above the horizon. The red planet is 8.3° upper left of Aldebaran and more than 20° lower right of Capella. Mars is considerably brighter than both stars.
Over the next two hours is the best time to spot the three outer planets, before Saturn gets too low in the southwestern sky.
At 6:20 p.m. CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is in view for skywatchers with telescopes, at the center of the planet in the Southern Hemisphere. From Chicago, the planet is halfway south and in a good vantage point across the Americas. By tomorrow morning, all the planets are below the horizon. The crescent moon is under Zubenelgenubi. Tomorrow night offers a better opportunity to view all five planets simultaneously.
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