2022, December 25:  Christmas Five Planet Display

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December 25, 2022:  The five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – put on a Christmas Evening display after sunset.

Photo Caption – 2021, May 12: The moon is 1.2 degrees to the left of brilliant Venus.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:17 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:25 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Daylight is slowly growing longer, 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: 9:25 UT, 19:21 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 – 2022, December 25: Vega and Deneb are in the northeast before sunup.

With the bright planet display in the evening sky, no planets shine from the morning celestial vault.

Two bright stars, Vega and Deneb, are in the northeast before sunrise.  They are in the evening sky as well.  They are far enough northward that they can appear before sunrise in the eastern sky and in the west after sundown.

Vega is the second brightest star in the northern half of the sky – that is, north of the celestial equator, the imaginary circle in the sky above Earth’s equator.  The star is about 25 light years away.  Its blue-white color indicates that it is hotter than our yellowish sun. It shines with a luminosity of about 100 suns.  The star is about twice the sun’s diameter.

Deneb is the ninth brightest star north of the celestial equator.  It is about 1,500 light years away and shines with the intensity of 25,000 suns.  While the star is not a supergiant, to shine with this intensity, it is nearly 60 times our central star’s diameter.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, December 25: Venus, Mercury, the crescent moon and Saturn are in the southwestern sky after sundown.

The five-planet display continues on Christmas evening.  Begin looking for it about 30 minutes after sunset.  Find a clear location to the southwest.  A hilltop or elevated structure allows observations over potential obstructions.  The five worlds are seen along an imaginary arc from the southwest to the east-northeast.

First attempt to locate Venus and Mercury.  Brilliant Venus is about 5° above the southwestern horizon and a little to the north of the southwest direction point.  Mercury is in the same binocular field with Venus and 3.5° to the upper left of the Evening Star.

Venus is bright enough to be seen in this level of twilight, but Mercury is washed out.  As the sky darkens further, Mercury becomes visible to the unaided eye along with Saturn.

By 45 minutes after sundown, the crescent moon, 9% illuminated and higher in the sky than last night, is about 15° above the southwestern horizon.  It is nearly 17° to the upper left of Mercury and over 13° to the lower right of Saturn.  The crescent is below an imaginary line from Mercury to Saturn.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 25: Jupiter is high in the southern sky when Mercury, Venus, Saturn and the moon are visible.

Bright Jupiter is about halfway up in the southern sky to the east of the south cardinal point.  It can be found earlier in twilight and may help with the identification of Saturn.  The gap between the giant planets is nearly 40 degrees, but it may help determine the arc where the planets are located. 

Do not confuse Saturn with Fomalhaut.  The star is lower in the south, slightly higher than the moon.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 25: Mars is in the eastern sky with Aldebaran and Capella.

The fifth planet, Mars, is nearly 30° up in the eastern sky with the stars Aldebaran and Capella.  The planet is brighter than the more distant stars.  Mars is nearly the same altitude – height above the horizon as Saturn.

At this point you can see the five planets simultaneously from Venus in the southwest to Mars in the east, including the moon.  The worlds are along an imaginary arc that is the plane of the solar system – known as the ecliptic.

Additionally, dim Uranus and Neptune are in the sky as well – including Earth, the eight planets of the modern solar system model.

Tomorrow is likely the best evening with the moon near Saturn, helping with the Ringed Wonder’s identification.  The display is falling apart with Mercury’s slow departure from the evening sky.  It is dimming and beginning to appear lower each evening.  Venus continues to help with its identification.

After Mercury leaves the evening sky, four planets are visible for several weeks during early 2023.  Venus passes Saturn on January 22nd and Jupiter on March 1st.

The next time five planets are in the sky simultaneously is October 2028.

Chart Caption – 2022, December 25: Two hours after sundown, Mars is seen with Taurus.

This evening when the sky is darker about two hours after sundown, Mars can be seen with the brighter stars of Taurus.  Mars continues its illusion of retrograde, passing 8.2° from Aldebaran tomorrow evening.  After Mars resumes its seemingly normal eastward motion on January 12th, it passes Aldebaran for the third time on January 30th.

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