2022, December 24:  Lunar Crescent Joins Five Planet Display


December 24, 2022: After sundown, the crescent moon joins the rare five-planet display with Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.

Photo Caption – 2020, December 10, Venus, Moon, and Spica.


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:16 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:25 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Daylight begins to lengthen, although slowly.  Latest sunrise time (7:18 a.m. CST) begins on the 28th and lasts through January 10th.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 3:38 UT, 13:34 UT, 23:29 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.

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – Late December: Spica is in the south-southeast. Scorpius climbs into the southeastern sky.

With the bright solar system features in the evening sky, the morning has several bright stars on display.  Looking to the south-southeast at an hour before sunup, blue-white Spica is over one-third of the way up in the sky. 

Lower in the sky, Scorpius leads the sun westward.  Its pincers, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi reach toward Spica.  The Scorpion’s forehead, Dschubba, is lower in the sky.  Antares, a few days after is first morning appearance, is near the horizon.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 24: The crescent moon appears with Venus and Mercury after sundown.

During the next five evenings, look for a rare display of the five bright planets, from the sunset point – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.  The next time five planets are in the sky simultaneously is October 2028..

This evening the crescent moon joins Venus and Mercury after sundown.  The gathering fits snugly into a binocular field of view.

Begin looking for the evening planet display about 30 minutes after sunset.  Find a location with a clear view of the sky, especially toward the southwest.

The crescent moon, only 4% illuminated, is over 5° up in the southwest.  Use a binocular to initially locate it.  Venus is 6.3° to the right of the crescent and Mercury is 4.7° to the upper right.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 24: Forty-five minutes after sundown, four bright planets and the crescent moon can be seen from the south to southwest.

During the next fifteen to twenty minutes, the gathering is lower in the western sky.  Depending on the clarity of the sky, Saturn shines through the azure of western twilight. Find it about 30° above the south-southwest horizon and the same distance to the upper left of Mercury.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 24: Forty-five minutes after sundown, Mars is in the east-northeast. Aldebaran and Capella are nearby.

Bright Jupiter is halfway up in the south-southeast and Mars is over 20° above the east-northeast horizon.  As the sky darkens, Aldebaran and Capella become visible near the Red Planet, but Mars is brighter than those stars.

The five planets are along an arc of the solar system’s plane from Venus to Mars.  Do not confuse the star Fomalhaut for Saturn.  The star is more southward and lower in the sky,

The five bright planets are visible simultaneously, and add the moon.  But that’s not all of the story.

The eight planets of the modern solar system model, including standing on Earth, can be seen across this view.  Uranus and Neptune are too dim to be seen without at least a binocular.  Neptune is west of Jupiter and Uranus is west of Mars, about one third of the way from the Pleiades star cluster to Jupiter.

Jupiter (NASA Photo)

At 5:29 p.m. CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is center stage for sky watchers with telescopes.  The planet is over halfway up in the south, the ideal spot to see it, at this time from Chicago.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 24: Two hours after sundown, Mars appears with Taurus in the eastern sky, 8.2° to the upper left of Aldebaran.

Two hours after sundown, bright Mars is in the eastern sky, retrograding in front of Taurus.  It is nearly halfway up in the eastern sky and 8.2° to the upper left of Aldebaran, the constellation’s brightest star. The Red Planet continues the illusion of retrograde, passing the star in two evenings.



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