Brilliant Morning Star Venus waltzes eastward among the stars of Libra. It is near the star Zubenelgenubi. Farther west, the bright gibbous moon is near the middle of Gemini beneath the Twins. In the evening, Mars dances eastward among the dim stars of Pisces. Jupiter closes the gap on Saturn as a prelude dance to the Great Conjunction, 18 evenings away.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:01 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in your location. Add the time intervals in the notes to your local sunrise or sunset times.
Morning: Brilliant Morning Star Venus is the lone bright planet in the morning sky before sunrise. It is “that bright star” in the eastern sky before sunrise. Looking eastward one hour before sunrise, the brilliant planet is stepping eastward through Libra. It is 1.3° to the upper left of the star Zubenelgenubi and 0.5° to the lower right of dim Mu Librae (μ Lib on the chart above).
According to George Davis’ 1944 short compendium of star names and meanings, Zubenelgenubi means “the southern claw.” The nearby star, Zubeneschamali is translated as “the northern claw.” The names hint to their ancestral association to Scorpius, being its claws.
Farther west, the bright gibbous moon appears near the center of Gemini, beneath Castor and Pollux, the Twins.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus – over 12° up in the east-southeast – is 1.3° to the upper left of Zubenelgenubi and 0.5° to the lower right of μ Lib. Farther west, the moon (18.3d, 91%) is 8.6° to the lower right of Pollux.
Evening: In the evening sky after sunset, Mars Jupiter, and Saturn are moving eastward in their respective constellations.
Read about Mars during December.
Mars picks up speed moving eastward compared to the starry background among the dim stars of Pisces. Use a binocular to spot two dim stars near the Red Planet. Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart) is to the upper left of Mars while 80 Piscium (80 Psc) is to the lower left. Make nightly observations to view Mars move between the two stars and then farther east.
Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. The gap between them is 1.9°. Dimmer Saturn is to the upper left of brighter Jupiter. The planet pair’s movement can be observed compared to 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart) with a binocular each night. Jupiter is to the lower left of the star, while Saturn is to its upper left. Saturn is beginning to approach the dim star Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap). While looking at the starfield with a binocular you can see as many as 4 of Jupiter’s brightest moons. They appear as stars on either side of the planet, typically in a line. Sometimes all are on the same side of Jupiter, but more than likely they are in a combination on either side of the world and extend away from the planet a little.
Five hours after sunset – about 9:20 p.m. CST for those in the eastern slice of the Central Time Zone – the bright gibbous moon is 20° up in the east-northeast, 4.6° to the lower right of Pollux. For other time zones and locations in the time zone, check your local sunset time and add five hours to make this observation.
Evening detailed note: In the evening, Mars – moving eastward in Pisces – is 1.0° to the lower right of ε Psc and 1.6° to the upper right of 80 Psc. Use a binocular to spot the planet among the dimmer stars. Farther west, Saturn is 20.0° up in the south-southwest, 1.9° to the upper left of Jupiter. Great Conjunction Countdown: 18 days. In the starfield, the Ringed Wonder is 3.9° to the upper left of 56 Sgr and 4.3° to the lower right of σ Cap, while Jupiter is 2.4° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Five hours after sunset (9:20 p.m. CST), the moon (18.9d, 86%) is over 20° in altitude above the east-northeast horizon. It is 4.6° to the lower right of Pollux.
Here is more about the planets during December 2020.
January 3, 2022: The moon passes Venus for the final time of this evening appearance of Venus. As night falls, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter are visible in the southwest. Mars is in the southeast before sunrise.
December 30, 2021: As the year ends and the new one opens, the night sky’s brightest star – Sirius – is in the southern sky at the midnight hour.
December 31, 2021: This morning before sunup, the thin waning crescent moon appears near Mars and the star Antares. Four planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are on parade in the southwest after sundown.
December 30, 2021: The morning crescent moon seems to be captured in the Scorpion’s pincers to the upper right of Mars. Four Evening Planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are in the southwest after sundown.
December 28, 2021: The Great Andromeda Galaxy is nearly overhead at the end of the evening twilight.