2022, December 8: Early Views, Venus, Mercury, Bright Evening Planets

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December 8, 2022: Venus and Mercury are visible during bright evening twilight.  The three bright outer planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – and the moon are on display during the early evening.

Photo Caption – (7 Dec. 1972) — The huge, 363-feet tall Apollo 17 (Spacecraft 114/Lunar Module 12/Saturn 512) space vehicle is launched from Pad A., Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, at 12:33 a.m. (EST), Dec. 7, 1972. Apollo 17, the final lunar landing mission in NASA’s Apollo program, was the first nighttime liftoff of the Saturn V launch vehicle.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:06 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Today’s sunset time is the earliest of the year.  This continues through the 14th.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 0:23 UT, 10:18 UT, 20:14 UT.  Convert the time to your time zone. In the US, subtract five hours for EST, six hours for CST, and so on.  Use a telescope to see the spot.  Times are from Sky & Telescope magazine

This is the 50th anniversary of the last Apollo lunar mission – Apollo 17.  Three astronauts, Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans, left earth in their Apollo module – America – on December 7, 1972, after midnight.  Later that morning, the Saturn V’s third stage – part of the most powerful rocket ever constructed and operated – propelled the trio toward the moon.  On December 8th, the astronauts were on their journey to their lunar rendezvous.

SUMMARIES FOR CURRENT SKY EVENTS

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 8: Before sunrise, the gibbous moon and Mars are in the west-northwest.

Before sunrise, the bright moon is in the west-northwest, less than 5° to the upper left of Mars.  The lunar orb is stepping eastward after its rare occultation of Mars at the planet’s opposition.

Mars is quickly disappearing from the morning sky at this hour.  It is 12.0° above the horizon. In a week it is less than 5° up in the sky at this time.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 8: Venus and Mercury are low in the southwest during bright evening twilight.

For sky watchers itching to see Venus in the evening sky, the brilliant planet, along with Mercury, is becoming visible.  The inner planets are low in the southwest during bright twilight.  A clear view of the natural horizon is needed.  Take a binocular to find them.  A compass – either traditional or digital, such as one on a smartphone – may be helpful to find them.

At twenty minutes after sundown, Venus is about 3° above the horizon and nearly 10° north (to the right) of the southwest point.  Make a fist, orient it horizontally, extend your arm, and orient it to the horizon, one side on the southwest point.  Find a distant landmark on the horizon relative to the right side of your hand.  Look above that landmark for Venus through the binocular. 

Mercury is 4.8° to the upper left of Venus, both in the same binocular field of view.

The five bright planets are in the sky now, but Saturn in particular is nearly impossible to find in this light.

Venus sets 42 minutes after sundown and Mercury follows nearly 15 minutes later.

Venus and Mercury are visible in a darker sky during the next several days.  Beginning December 24th, the moon joins them with the three other planets to form an evening display.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 8: As night falls, Mars and the moon are in the east-northeast.

By an hour after sundown, the three bright outer planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible.  The bright moon is above the east-northeast horizon.  Mars is over 10° to the upper right of the lunar globe.

The dimmer stars that comprise Taurus will be easier to see when the moon moves from the region in a few evenings.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 8: Jupiter and Saturn are in the southern sky after sundown.

Jupiter is “that bright star” about halfway up in the south-southeast.  It slowly moves eastward in front of a dim Pisces starfield.

Saturn is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest.  It is traveling eastward against a starfield in eastern Capricornus.

About 2.5 hours after sunset, the three planets and the moon are nicely placed to see them simultaneously. Starting in the eastern sky, the moon is in the east-northeast.  Mars is to the moon’s upper right, about 20° above the eastern horizon.  Jupiter is about halfway up in the south, while Saturn is about 20° above the southwestern horizon.

By tomorrow morning, the moon, farther eastward, and Mars remain from the evening display.

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