December 2, 2022: The bright gibbous moon is in the southeast after sundown. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible during the evening.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:00 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
At Chicago’s latitude, daylight lasts 9 hours, 20 minutes today. On the solstice, December 21st, daylight is twelve minutes shorter than today. There’s not much more daylight to lose.
Today’s sunset time is the earliest of the year. This continues through the 14th.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Bright Mars is finishing its all-nighter in the western sky before sunrise. Brighter than all the stars this morning, the Red Planet is about 20° up in the west-northwest at an hour before sunrise. It is 5.7° to the lower left of Elnath – the northern horn of Taurus – and 11.1° to the upper right of Aldebaran, the constellation’s brightest star.
Mars continues to retrograde – appear to move westward – compared to the distant starfield. The illusion continues to nearly mid-January.
Earth is passing between the planet and the sun. The effect of Earth’s faster speed is that Mars seems to move backwards or retrograde.
Each morning Mars is lower in the sky. Around mid-month, Mars is no longer visible at this hour in the morning.
Farther eastward, the Scorpion’s claws – Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali – are reaching over the southeastern horizon. The heart – Antares – is near solar conjunction today, making its first morning appearance – heliacal rising – on the 27th, depending on weather conditions. The entire constellation is not visible until later next month.
The claw stars are part of the modern Libra constellation. Some celestial artwork either shows Scorpius alone or grasping a balance scale.
Venus and Mercury continue their slow entry in to the evening sky. They are east of the sun and are hidden in bright evening twilight, meaning they set after the central star. This evening Venus sets 36 minutes after the sun, while Mercury follows four minutes later.
The two inferior planets – those closer to the sun than Earth – join Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars for another five-planet display beginning in nearly three weeks.
As night falls, the bright gibbous moon, 75% illuminated, is nearly 40° up in the southeast. It is over 10° to the lower left of bright Jupiter. The moon reaches its Full (Cold) moon phase on the 7th, the night the moon occults or eclipses Mars.
Jupiter is slowly moving eastward against a dim Pisces starfield. It is the brightest star in the sky tonight. Even the planets look like stars without the aid of a telescope.
Saturn is brighter than most stars tonight, but it is dimmer than Jupiter. The Ringed Wonder is about one third of the way up in the south-southwest, nearly 39° from Jupiter. As Jupiter picks up eastward speed after its retrograde ended last month, Saturn is moving faster eastward, slightly closing the wide gap to the Jovian Giant.
An hour after sundown, Mars is less than 10° up in the east-northeast. Opposition occurs in five nights when it rises at sunset. There’s no rush to see the Red Planet at this moment. It is higher later during the evening and farther westward.
About three hours after sundown, Mars, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn dot the ecliptic from the east to the southwest. The moon and Jupiter are about halfway up in the south. Mars is about 20° up in the east and Saturn is the same height above the horizon in the southwest.
By tomorrow morning, Saturn, Jupiter, and the moon have left the sky, leaving Mars in the western sky. The display of the three bright outer planets continues into next month.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.
- 2023, October 16: Venus in Starry ConjunctionOctober 16, 2023: Venus passes a star in Leo before sunrise. A crescent moon is low in the western sky during evening twilight.