December 16, 2021: Venus and Saturn are closest this evening. Jupiter is to the upper left of Saturn. The bright moon is in the eastern sky. In the morning sky, Mars moves through Scorpius.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:12 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:21 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
With the winter solstice nearly a week away, sunset times began to increase slowly. My month’s end the sundown time increases nearly 10 minutes, but daylight’s length is only nine hours, 12 minutes long.
Mars’ visibility in the morning sky before sunrise is improving. It is moving eastward in Scorpius, near Graffias – “the crab.” Apparently, our ancestors thought that crabs and scorpions were closely related or perhaps were manifestations of the same creature.
Here’s how to find them:
About 45 minutes before sunrise, step outside and look toward the southeast. Bluish Spica is a little over one-third of the way up in the south-southeastern sky. Don’t confuse it with topaz Arcturus that stands about 55° up in the southeast. Besides Vega, low in the east-northeast, this part of the sky is without many bright stars.
From Spica, look to the lower left for a pair of stars, about 10° apart. An imaginary line between them is nearly horizontal. They are Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, “the claws of the scorpion.” The pair is about 25° to the lower left of Spica.
Mars is 15.0° below Zubeneschamali and 1.6° to the upper right of Graffias. In two mornings, Mars passes about 1.0° to the lower right of Graffias. Tomorrow morning they are 1.1° apart.
Venus’ evening appearance is stalling. It begins to retrograde in two evenings. This evening marks the closest Venus gets to Saturn during this evening appearance. The gap is 14.0°.
Venus passes Saturn in the morning sky on March 29, after both planets pass their solar conjunctions.
Find the brilliant Evening Star, 12° up in the southwest at about one hour after sunset. The planet’s identity is often mistaken for an airplane or extraterrestrial craft. Only the sun and moon are regularly brighter than this nearby planet.
Through a telescope, Venus shows a crescent phase that is about 15% illuminated.
The third planet nearby is Jupiter, 17.4° to the upper left of Saturn. Jupiter is the next brightest “star” after Venus.
The gap between Jupiter and Saturn slowly opens as the Jovian Giant moves eastward. Jupiter does not catch up to Saturn again until 2040.
This evening at this hour, the bright moon, 96% illuminated, is about one-third of the way up in the east, below the Pleiades star cluster.
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.