Tag: astronomy

2019, December 21-22: Venus, A Solstice Evening Walk, and Mars in Morning Sky

Solstice evening brought a clear, cobalt-stained sky after a biting, cloudy beginning of the day.  Brilliant Venus appeared in the southwest among the trees.

Later in the evening, a walk under a clear, dark firmament showed the magnificence of an early winter sky.  Majestic Sirius twinkled wildly above the horizon.  Reddish Betelgeuse – dimmer than usual – and sapphire-blue Rigel stood regally above the night sky’s brightest star.  Reliable Procyon appeared with more height than the grandest star.

Higher above Betelgeuse, ruddy Aldebaran overlooked the scene with the Bull’s horns pointed toward Auriga and Capella.  Nearby, the Gemini Twins seemed alone watching Sirius’ great gleam.

The pack of Pleiades appeared too high for convenient view, although they seemed to be pulling this bright Winter Congregation westward.

The Great Square spread across the western sky with a strand of Andromeda’s stars pointing toward Perseus and Cassiopeia.  The Great Spiral, though, seemed lost in the creeping glow of a nearby city.  Deneb, that grand star of the Swan and Summer, lingered in the northwest.

The Grand Dipper climbed into the northeast, with the magic Pointers leading us to the star that never moves, Polaris.  Its position showed us, though, that the road where we walked was not due north or straight as we first perceived.  That dipper was using its muscle to help us see that Leo’s rising was near.

Before retracing our steps to retire for the evening, the glow of Orion’s stellar incubators blazed forth to our dark-adapted eyes.

Younger voices leaned in to hear the stories of the stars and inquire about the great celestial mysteries.

Next morning clear skies prevailed again.  As the new day grew in the southeast, the crescent moon stood above the pincers of the ancient scorpion, with Mars not far away.  The gleam of the Red Planet was not what many expected.  It’s not the fiery orb of science fiction.  Rather, it showed as a somewhat bright reddish star, not as bright as we might expect when it is near our home world.

Now Leo was in the sky, tilting westward.  Only the arc of Procyon, the Gemini Twins, and the Goat Star remained in the western sky from last night’s awe-inspiring display.  Spica and Arcturus sparsely marked the morning glory, unlike that celestial opera we saw last night.

Vega, now, appeared higher in the northeast with Deneb lower near the horizon, this morning’s position much different from last night.

The sky soon filled with sunlight. Our central star seems to always win over our dimmer and more distant celestial suns.  Until the next time when there’s a walk under the dark star-filled sky in that special place where the road does not run true north to south.





2019, December 21: Winter Solstice, A Long Time in Arriving

A wintry snow scene

The winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere) is here on December 21 at 10:19 p.m. CST.  The sun reaches its lowest point in the sky and daylight is short.  The darkness around the solstice is a long period.  On December 1, the sun was in the sky 9 hours, 23 minutes (in Chicago) and at other locales at or near this latitude.  On the solstice, daylight’s length is 9 hours, 8 minutes.  Afterward, there is not a sudden snap to longer daylight.  By January 10, three weeks after the solstice, daylight stretches only 12 minutes to 9 hours, 20 minutes.  The length of daylight begins to stretch, nearly 10 hours by the end of January.

Without carefully watching the sun and a calendar, and lack of some astronomical calculations, the date of the solstice would be difficult to determine by experiencing the colder, darker time alone.

A better indicator of the solstice is the starry night sky.  As the sky is fully-darkened, when most are inside to keep warm from the day’s work, magnificent Sirius gleams low in the eastern sky.  (Venus sparkles wildly in the west at solstice time 2019.)  The Dog Star makes its presence known as it twinkles randomly from its low position.  The Little Dog Star, Procyon, shines to the upper left of Sirius.  Rigel and reddish Betelgeuse shine from above Sirius.

So while daylight finally dwindles to its minimum for this solar cycle, the reliable repetition of the annual stellar rhythms tell us that longer daylight is ahead, although it’ll take a several weeks to notice the change.  Happy Solstice time!  For me, it’s Christmas, so I wish you a Merry Christmas.  Have a blessed holiday.

2019, December: Moon, Venus, and Mars

During late December, the moon appears near brilliant Venus in the evening sky and Mars in the morning sky.  Here are the highlights:

December 22: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 18° in altitude in the southeast, is over 8° to the lower left of the waning crescent moon that is 25.9 days old and 16% illuminated. The moon is above a line that connects Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, the pincers of the Scorpion – on ancient star maps. The lunar crescent is 3.5° to the upper left of Zubenelgenubi.

December 23: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 18° up in the southeast, is 6° to the upper right of the crescent moon. The old moon is 26.9 days old and only 8% illuminated.

December 28: Nearly a week later than its appearance with Mars, the moon returns to the evening sky in the west.  Forty-five minutes after sunset, Venus is 17° in altitude in the southwest. The moon is 2.4° below the planet. The moon is 2.8 days old and 8% illuminated.

2020, January: Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in the Morning, In Advance of the Great Conjunction

During January 2020, Mars is joined by Jupiter in the morning. Saturn is at its solar conjunction and invisible to us because of the sun’s glare.

Click here for our article about the 2020 Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

Jupiter and Saturn are in the same region of the sky. Jupiter is among the brightest “stars” in the night sky while Saturn is dimmer.  Mars varies in its brightness.  When near Earth later this year, it outshines Jupiter, but during January it is dimmer in the eastern sky, and easily overlooked.

Jupiter makes its first morning appearance late in the month, joining Mars as morning planets. Saturn passes its solar conjunction near mid-month and slowly crawls into the morning sky.

  • January 5: Mars is less than one-third of the way up in the sky about one hour before sunrise.  The planet is not very bright compared to our expectations.  It is near the stars of Scorpius.  This morning it is to the upper right of the star Graffias.  Compare Mars’ brightness and color to Antares, sometimes known as the “Rival of Mars.”  During the next several mornings, watch Mars move past Graffias and far above Antares.
  • January 7: Jupiter is beginning to move into the morning sky, but it rises only about 30 minutes before sunrise.  Look for it later in the month.
  • January 13: Saturn is at its solar conjunction.  It is hidden in the sun’s glare.  We won’t see it for several weeks.

  • January 20: This morning, the old moon is above Mars. Notice how far Mars has moved during the past several mornings.  During bright twilight, about 30 minutes before sunrise, Jupiter is just above the southeast horizon.  You’ll need a binocular to see it, as well as the crescent moon and Mars.
  • January 22: Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Jupiter is about 4° up in the southeast. The crescent moon (27.2d, 6%) is 7° to the upper right of Jupiter.
  • January 24: Saturn rises during bright twilight and its very difficult to see.

  • January 28: About 45 minutes before sunrise, Jupiter is low in the southeast.  Use a binocular to locate Mars with Antares to its right.

Next Month, Saturn becomes visible as Jupiter and Saturn head toward their once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.

2019, December 10: Evening Star Venus Passes Saturn

The brilliant Evening Star Venus passes Saturn this evening. They appear in the southwest as the sky darkens. This evening, Venus is 1.8° to the lower left of Saturn.  Watch Venus move away from Saturn during the month.  Saturn disappears into the sun’s glare and reappears in the morning sky by the end of February 2020.

Venus continues its appearance in the evening sky.  Watch it during the next several months.

Read more about Venus as an Evening Star:

2019, December 3: Evening Star Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn

The image above shows Brilliant Evening Star Venus, Jupiter and Saturn about an hour after sunset. Venus is nearly midway between Jupiter and Saturn, but they are not along the same arc in the sky: Venus – Saturn, 8.6°; Venus – Jupiter, 9.7°.   Watch Venus continue to close in and pass Saturn on December 10.  (See the link below.)

Jupiter is becoming more difficult to observe at this time interval after sunset. This evening, it is less than 5° in altitude.

Read more about Venus as an Evening Star at these links:

2019, November 25, 2019: Evening Star Venus and Jupiter


One night past their conjunction, Venus appears to the left of Jupiter this evening about 45 minutes after sunset.  Venus continues to move away from Jupiter and toward Saturn.  Venus passes the Ringed Wonder on December 10.  Meanwhile, look for the crescent moon and Venus on November 28, Thanksgiving evening in the U.S.  See the links below for more details.

Read more about Venus as an Evening Star at these links: