December 4, 2021: Before sunup the thin crescent moon guides us to dim Mars. In the evening sky, Evening Star Venus, Saturn and Saturn shine from the southern sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:02 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Mars is climbing into the morning sky after its solar conjunction about two months ago. The planet is now unexpectantly dim. It is over 230 million miles away. Additionally, the planet is small and it only reflects about 20% of the sunlight that strikes its surface. Mars is bright when close to Earth. This occurs about every two years when Earth moves between Mars and sun. Otherwise, Mars presents itself as a somewhat bright star that moves eastward compared to the starry background.
This morning the thin crescent moon, 5% illuminated, is to the upper right of Mars. Here’s how to look for the Red Planet. At 45 minutes before sunup, find the thin lunar slice, about 13° up in the southeast. With a binocular place the moon in the upper right edge of the field of view. Mars is 6.6° to the lower left of the moon, near the edge of the binocular field.
The three evening planets, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter, are in the southern sky after sunset. Exceedingly brilliant Venus is low in the south-southwest, easily mistaken for lights on an airplane.
Bright Jupiter is about one-third of the way up in the south. Saturn, dimmer than the other two planets, is between Jupiter and Venus.
In two evenings, Venus and the thin crescent moon appear together after sundown.
January 5, 2022: Jupiter and the crescent are 5.5° in the evening sky. Look for Mercury and Saturn with the planet-moon duo. Earlier, Venus is low in the west-southwest. Before sunrise, Mars is near Antares.
January 4, 2022: Earth is at perihelion today – it’s closest point to the sun. Mars is a morning planet, while the evening planet pack – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – and the crescent moon are in the southwest after sundown.
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.