December 19, 2022: Before sunrise, the crescent moon approaches Scorpio’s pincers. After sunset, try to spot the bright five planets after sunset.
by Jeffrey L Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:14 am CST; Sunset, 4:22 PM CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight has reached the shortest time interval of the year, nine hours and eight minutes. The latest sunrise time (7:18 a.m. CST) begins on March 28th and lasts until January 10thth.
Transit times of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot when located at the planet’s center in the southern hemisphere: 4:28 UT, 14:24 UT; December 20, 0:20 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 spot. The times are from Sky & Telescope Magazine.
This is the 50thth Anniversary of the last Apollo moon 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 states, “The Apollo 17 mission was the most productive and trouble-free manned mission and represented the culmination of continued advances in hardware, procedures, training, planning, operations, and scientific experimentation.”
This ended a phase of human exploration of space in which 12 humans were placed on the moon for brief visits.
Here is today’s planetary forecast:
There is no bright planet in the sky this morning. An hour before sunrise, the 19% illumination crescent moon is about a third (30°) of the way up the SSE, 11.6° down left of Spica.
The moon shows earthshine on its night part. Reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds and land softly illuminates the moonlit night.
Note the pincers of the scorpion, zubeneschamali and zubenelgenubi, about 10° down left of the crescent moon. It’s about the brightness of the stars of the Big Dipper.
At this hour Scorpio appears to be rising above the southeastern horizon. Today, the pinch stars belong to Libra. Scorpio’s forehead, Jubba, is almost 10° above the horizon. Antares, the heart, appears for the first time in the morning a few mornings, known as the heliacal rising.
Begin by finding the Five Planets Indicator. Venus and Mercury are low in the lighter twilight to the southwest. 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 and face southwest. on the 24thththe evening crescent moon joins the two inner planets.
Tonight, 30 minutes after sunset, radiant Venus is about 5° above the southwest horizon, to the right of the southwest point. While near the horizon, the planet is bright enough to be seen at this twilight level without the optical assistance of binoculars, but it may have to be found first.
One technique I use is to move – either walking towards or away from the assumed position of the planet to see it in comparison to a tree or a nearby building. When you find it, you can show it to a companion watching the sky by relating the planet to the terrestrial feature. The attached photo above shows the planet in relation to a tree.
Mercury is 5.7° upper left of Venus. Both fit easily in the same binocular field of view. The planet is pretty bright. Can you see it without binoculars?
Saturn is over 30° to the upper left of Mercury and the same distance above the south-southwest horizon. It is not bright and probably not visible at this level of twilight without optical support.
Point the binoculars in the general direction to slowly sweep the sky either up and down or left to right in a pattern with overlapping binocular fields of view – a grid search.
Over the next few minutes, the sky will continue to darken and Venus and Mercury will be lower in the sky. Saturn may be visible in this interval depending on sky clarity. If so, look for Mercury and Venus to the southwest, Jupiter to the south-southeast, and Mars to the east-northeast.
Fifteen minutes later, 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury is lower to the southwest and Venus is very low, almost setting, but theoretically visible for its brilliance.
Saturn is clearly visible to the south-southwest and bright Jupiter is to the south-southeast – about halfway up the sky (45°).
Mars is in the east-northeast, over 20° above the horizon. The Red Planet is 8.3° upper left of Aldebaran and over 20° lower right of Capella. Mars is significantly brighter than the two stars.
The next two hours is the best time to spot the three outer planets before Saturn gets too low in the southwestern sky.
At 18:20 CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot at the planet’s center is best visible to skygazers with telescopes in the southern hemisphere. From Chicago, the planet is more than halfway south and across America from a good viewing position. Tomorrow morning all the planets will be below the horizon. The crescent moon is below Zubenelgenubi. Tomorrow evening offers a better opportunity to see the five planets at once.
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