2022, December 14:  Morning Gibbous Moon, Bright Outer Planets

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December 14, 2022: The morning gibbous moon is east of the Sickle of Leo.  Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are on display across the sky during the early evening.

Sunset over the ocean

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:10 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.  Daylight’s length is nine hours, ten minutes.  Sunset time begins to get later.  By month’s end the sun sets at 4:30 p.m. CST. 

The latest sunrise (7:18 a.m.) begins on the 28th and continues through January 10th.

The shortest daylight (nine hours, eight minutes) occurs the 21st through the 23rd.

All these events do not occur on the winter solstice because Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle and the planet is tilted 23.5°.  Perihelion, Earth’s closest point to the sun, occurs on January 4, 2023. So, the planet is moving fastest around the sun near the solstice making the earliest sunrise and latest sunset out of alignment with the December 21st solstice.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 5:19 UT, 15:15 UT; Dec. 15, 1:11 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.

Photo Caption – (14 Dec. 1972) — The Apollo 17 Lunar Module “Challenger” ascent stage leaves the Taurus-Littrow landing site as it makes its spectacular liftoff from the lunar surface, as seen in this reproduction taken from a color television transmission made by the color TV camera mounted on the Lunar Roving Vehicle .

This is the 50th anniversary of the last Apollo lunar mission – Apollo 17.  December 14, 1972, the ascent stage of the lunar module left the moon to rejoin Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt with Ronald Evans, who performed experiments while orbiting the moon.  The astronauts were on the moon for nearly 75 hours.

Two hours after liftoff, the lunar module docked with the command module.  Lunar samples were moved to the command ship to return them to Earth.

Photo Caption – (14 Dec. 1972) — view of the Lunar Module “Challenger” in lunar orbit before rendezvous with the Apollo 17 Command and Service Modules.

The lunar module ascent stage was separated from the command module.  A remote command was issued to deorbit the craft.  It crashed into the moon about five miles southwest of the Apollo 17 landing site.  Seismometers left by other Apollo crews observed the tremors from the impact.

Summaries of Current Sky Events

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 14: Before sunrise, the gibbous moon is east of the Sickle of Leo.

The gibbous moon, 68% illuminated, is over 50° up in the southwest – east of the Sickle of Leo, a backwards question mark shape that makes the head of Leo.  Regulus – meaning “the prince” – is at the bottom of the shape and 4.2° to the lower right of the moon.

Denebola marks the tail, the brightest star on the eastern edge of the constellation.

Regulus is the closest bright star to the plane of the ecliptic.  The sun blocks out this part of the sky during late August.  This morning’s lunar spot is at about the sun’s place during summer in the northern hemisphere.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 14: Mars is low in the west-northwest before sunup.

Mars, the third bright outer planet in the sky each night, is over 5° above the west-northwest horizon at one hour before sunrise.  After tomorrow morning, Mars leaves the morning charts because it is too low to be easily seen. The scene shifts to the evening sky where the Red Planet is easy to see after sunset and during the early evening hours.

This morning Mars is 9.6° to the lower right of Elnath, the northern horn of Taurus.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 14: Venus and Mercury are low in the southwest after sundown.

Venus and Mercury continue their entry into the evening sky.  At twenty-five minutes after sundown, brilliant Venus is less than 5° up in the southwest.  It is less than 7° to the right of the southwest point.  A compass – either classical or a digital app on a smartphone – may be needed to locate the direction point.  The distance is about one binocular field of view.

Mercury, over 6° above the southwest horizon, is 5.7° to the upper left of Venus, both visible in the same binocular field.

Venus is bright enough that during the next few days it becomes visible to the unaided eye at about this time interval against the bright twilight.  More southerly sky watchers may have already spotted it without a binocular.

The two inner planets become easier to see each evening.  By the 24th, they appear with the three bright outer planets and the moon.

Jupiter is visible at this time interval, but Saturn is considerably dimmer and not likely visible here.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 14: Jupiter and Saturn are in the southern sky after sunset.

By an hour after sundown, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to see, but Mercury and Venus are below the horizon or a challenge to see because of their low altitudes – height above the horizon.

Jupiter is “that bright star,” about halfway up in the south-southeast.  The planet is moving eastward against a dim starfield in Pisces.

Saturn, about 30° up in the south-southwest, is in front of a starfield in eastern Capricornus.  The planet plods slowly eastward. Its eastward direction can be easily tracked compared to Deneb Algedi and Nashira.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 14: Through a binocular, Saturn closes in on Nashira for a conjunction later in the month.

Through a binocular, Saturn is 1.8° to the upper right of Nashira.  Each clear evening watch the Ringed Wonder close in on the star.  Saturn passes 1.3° from the star on the 27th and 28th.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 14: Mars is in the east-northeast with Taurus after sunset.

Farther eastward, Mars is about 20° above the east-northeast horizon.  Distinctly red-orange, the Red Planet is dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than the other stars.

The planet is retrograding against Taurus, 9.7° to the upper right of Elnath and 8.7° to the upper left of Aldebaran, the pattern’s brightest star.

Taurus is a bull that seems to be backing into the eastern sky.  The head is outlined by the Hyades star cluster and Aldebaran, resembling at sideways letter “V” at this hour. The horns are dotted by Zeta Tauri and Elnath, also known as Beta Tauri.  The Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, ride on the animals back.

During the night Mars and Taurus are higher in the sky.  The planet is high in the south about seven hours after sunset.

Around two hours after down is the best time to see all three planets simultaneously.  Jupiter is in the south, while Mars is about 30° up in the east and Saturn is over 20° above the southwest horizon.

At 7:11 p.m. CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is in ideal observing conditions across North America. The long-lived atmospheric feature is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. From Chicago, the planet is about 45° above the south-southwest horizon.  For sky watchers with telescopes farther eastward, the planet is lower in the southwest, but higher in the south for those farther westward.

By tomorrow morning, Mars is very low in the west-northwest before sunrise.

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