2022, December 15: Morning Moon, Evening Planets


December 15, 2022: The slightly gibbous moon is below Leo this morning.  The five bright planets are about to appear together.  Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to see during early evening hours.

Photo Caption – Snowy Tree


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:11 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:21 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

After thirteen days of setting at 4:20 p.m. CST, sunset begins to inch later.  The year’s shortest day does not occur until the 21st through the 23rd. Sunrise continues to get later, another five minutes by the solstice.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 1:11 UT, 11:06 UT, 21:02 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 – An artist’s concept illustrating how radar beams of the Apollo 17 lunar sounder experiment probed three-quarters of a mile below the moon’s surface from the orbiting spacecraft.

This is the 50th anniversary of the last Apollo lunar mission – Apollo 17.  On December 15, 1972, after rejoining Ronald Evans in the command module, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt worked with him to conduct lunar observations from orbit.  This continued for the next day.

Summaries of Current Sky Events

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 15: The slightly gibbous moon is below Leo this morning.

At one hour before sunrise, the slightly gibbous moon, 58% illuminated, nearly 60° up in the south-southwest, below Leo – 11.6° to the lower right of Denebola, the Lion’s tail.

Tomorrow morning at 2:56 a.m. CST, the moon is at its Last Quarter (waning half) phase.

Leo resembles its namesake.  The backwards question mark pattern, named the Sickle of Leo, makes the lion’s head.  A triangle of stars to the east dots the back legs and tail.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 15: Mars is very low in the west-northwest before sunup.

Mars is low in the west-northwest.  At this hour, it is less than 5° above the horizon and 9.9° to the lower right of Elnath, the northern horn of Taurus.

This is the last morning for this Martian appearance that Mars will be noted here and included on the charts. Sky Watchers with clear horizons, can watch this planet disappear from the sky at this hour, during the next several days.  The attention to Mars continues in the evening sky.  For the morning observations, we say “Goodbye” to Mars.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 15: Venus and Mercury are in bright twilight during the early evening.

Venus and Mercury continue their entry into the evening sky.  At 25 minutes after sundown, they are low in the southwest.  Use a binocular to locate them in this light.  The inner planets are in the same binocular field of view, 5.8° apart.

An hour after sundown, the three bright outer planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are dotting the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 15: Mars is with Taurus in the east-northeast.

Starting in the eastern sky, Mars is 20° up in the east-northeast, 8.6° to the upper left of Aldebaran, Taurus’ brightest star.

Mars continues its retrograde against Taurus.  This illusion ends in about a month.

The Bull is on its side in the eastern sky.  Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster outline the head.  Elnath and Zeta Tauri are on the horns, while the Pleiades star cluster is on the Bull’s back.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 15: Jupiter and Saturn are in the southern sky after sundown.

Bright Jupiter is over halfway up in the sky in the south-southeast.  No other “star” is brighter at this hour.  It is about 40° to the upper right of Saturn that is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest.

The Ringed Wonder seems to be approaching Nashira, in eastern Capricornus.  The planet’s motion is slow but can be seen from night to night.

Jupiter is south at about two hours after sunset and this is the best time to see the three outer planets simultaneously.  At this time, Mars is about one-third of the way up in the east and Saturn is about 20° above the southwestern horizon.

The moon rises near the midnight hour and it is in the southern sky before sunrise tomorrow.



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