December 24, 2022: After sunset, the crescent moon joins the rare display of five planets with Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: sunrise, 7:16 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:25 PM CST. Check local resources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight begins to lengthen, albeit slowly. The latest sunrise time (7:18 a.m. CST) begins on the 28the and lasts until January 10e.
The transit times of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, when it is at 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 view the spot. Times are from Sky & Telescope magazine.
Here’s today’s planet forecast:
With the bright features of the solar system in the evening sky, several bright stars can be seen in the morning. Looking south-southeast, an hour before sunrise, the blue-and-white Spica is more than a third of its height in the sky.
Lower in the sky, Scorpius directs the sun to the west. His pincers, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi reach for Spica. Scorpio’s forehead, Dschubba, is lower in the sky. Antares, a few days after it first appeared at dawn, is on the horizon.
Over the next five evenings, look for a rare view of the five bright planets, from the point of sunset: Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. The next time five planets will be in the sky at once will be mid-April 2036.
Tonight, the crescent moon will join Venus and Mercury after sunset. The meeting fits right into a binocular field of view.
Start looking for the evening planet view about 30 minutes after sunset. Find a location with a clear view of the sky, especially in the southwest.
The crescent moon, only 4% illuminated, is more than 5° higher in the southwest. Use binoculars to locate it initially. Venus is 6.3° to the right of the crescent and Mercury is 4.7° to the upper right.
For the next fifteen to twenty minutes, the gathering is lower in the western sky. Depending on the brightness of the sky, Saturn shines through the azure western twilight. Find it about 30° above the south-southwest horizon and the same distance to the upper left of Mercury.
Bright Jupiter is midway south-southeast and Mars is more than 20 degrees 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 located along an arc of the plane of the solar system from Venus to Mars. Do not confuse the star Fomalhaut with Saturn. The star is further south and lower in the sky,
The five bright planets are visible at the same time, adding the moon. But that’s not the whole story.
The eight planets of the modern solar system model, including those standing on Earth, can be seen from this vantage point. Uranus and Neptune are too faint to see without at least a pair of binoculars. Neptune is west of Jupiter and Uranus is west of Mars, about a third of the way from the Pleiades star cluster to Jupiter.
At 17:29 CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot will be the focus for telescope stargazers. The planet is more than halfway south, the ideal place to see it from Chicago right now.
Two hours after sunset, bright Mars is in the eastern sky, retrograding Taurus. It is located nearly midway across 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.