2022, December 9: Early Birds, Venus and Mercury, Bright Planet Exhibition

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December 9, 2022: Venus and Mercury are beginning to appear in the southwest.  The current view is in bright twilight.  After dark, the moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn hang across the sky.

Photo Caption – View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. (NASA photo)

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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.

Daylight shrinks to nine hours, fourteen minutes today.  There’s another six minutes to lose before declaring the shortest daylight of the year.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 6:10 UT, 16:05 UT; Dec. 10, 2:01 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.  December 9, 1972, was the mission’s third calendar day. On this day, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, the last two moon walkers, entered the lunar lander to prepare it for the lunar landing.  The command module and lander were attached and the tandem was enroute to lunar orbit.

Summaries of Current Sky Events

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 9: Mars and the bright moon are in the west-northwest before sunrise.

This morning, the bright moon, 98% illuminated, is less than one-third of the way up in the sky in the west-northwest.  It is nearly 16° to the upper left bright Mars that is brighter than Sirius.  The Red Planet is past its opposition with the sun and it continues to shine brightly.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 9: Venus and Mercury are above the southwestern horizon in bright twilight.

Venus and Mercury are visible in the southwest after sunset, for sky watchers who want a challenge to find them.  They are low in the sky during bright twilight, 20 minutes after sundown.

Find a clear horizon, looking toward the southwest.  An elevated structure or a hilltop will help.  A binocular is essential.  Venus is about 4° above the horizon, to the north or right of the southwest direction.  Mercury, in the same binocular field of view with Venus, is 5.0° to the upper left of the Evening Star.  Once Venus is found, move it off-center and to the lower right of the field of view.  Mercury is to the upper left.

Venus sets 44 minutes after sunset.  The window to find it is limited, but wider each evening.  Mercury follows Venus to the horizon, 15 minutes later.

Venus and Mercury join the three bright outer planets later in the month in a darker sky.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 9: Jupiter and Saturn are in the southern sky after sundown.

By an hour after sunset, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are lined up across the sky.

Bright Jupiter is nearly halfway up in the south-southwest.  It is moving slowly eastward in Pisces.  The Jovian Giant and Neptune are still in the same binocular field of view.  With the moon near the horizon and ready to rise, we’ll look at this again in a night or two when the lunar orb and its bright light are out of the sky.

Saturn is moving eastward in eastern Capricornus.  An hour after sundown, it is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest.  The Jupiter-to-Saturn gap is 38.7°.  Saturn is still moving eastward faster than Jupiter, but this will not last much longer.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 9: Mars is east-northeast after sunset.

Mars is less than 15° above the east-northeast skyline.  It continues to retrograde after opposition.  This continues to nearly mid-January.  The planet is 9.5° to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.

Nearly 2.5 hours after sundown, the three planets and the bright moon are lined up along the plane of the ecliptic from the east-northeast to the southwest.  Jupiter is in the south; Mars is east; and Saturn is southwest, about 20° above the horizon.

During the night, Saturn and Jupiter set, leaving Mars in the west-northwest and moon above it – near the Gemini Twins – Castor and Pollux.

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