December 16, 17, 18, 2021: The bright moon appears in front of the stars of Taurus. Find them low in the east after sunset and in the western sky before sunrise. The moon is Full at 4:35 a.m. on December 19.
By Jeffrey L. Hunt
With three bright planets – Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn – in the southwest after sunset, the bright moon is in the eastern sky in front of the stars of Taurus. The lunar luminescence overwhelms the background stars. Shield your eyes from the moon’s glare or use a binocular to find the stellar backdrop.
Here’s what to look for:
December 16: The bright moon – 96% illuminated – is 4.9° below the Pleiades star cluster. The lunar orb and the cluster easily fit into the same binocular field. To reduce the moon’s glare in the view, move the binocular until the lunar orb is outside the field of view, but the cluster is visible.
December 17: The moon – 99% illuminated – is 7.2° to the upper left of the star Aldebaran. With the Hyades star cluster, Aldebaran makes a sideways “V” that marks the head of the mythological Bull. Look at the bunch with a binocular. The moon is well outside the field of view.
December 18: The moon – 100% illuminated – is seemingly caught between the Bull’s horns – Elnath, also known as Beta Tauri, and Zeta Tauri. The moon is 3.9° to the upper left of Zeta and 4.9° to the lower left of Beta. The two stars are too far apart for both of them to fit into a binocular field, so the moon fits with only one star aThe Crab Nebula is just 1° above Zeta Tauri and 3.3° to the lower right of the moon this evening. The cloud is the result of a star that exploded in the year 1054. It is a challenge to see even through a telescope, but the lunar globe is in the vicinity of the sky where one of the most important celestial objects is located for our understanding of the universe. It is an exploded star. It has a rotating neutron star at its center and produces light and other forms of energy by accelerating matter along magnetic fields. A large telescope and a long exposure photograph reveals the Crab’s wonders. With the moon’s brightness, this is not a good evening to look for the nebula.
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.