HomeScienceOuter SpaceMorning Crescent, Bright Evening Display Forming - When the curves line up

Morning Crescent, Bright Evening Display Forming – When the curves line up

December 17, 2022: The thick morning crescent is near Porrima in Virgo this morning. An evening display of the five bright planets begins to form.

Photo Caption – June 24, 2022: Venus, Mercury, and the crescent moon before sunrise.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois: sunrise, 7:13 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:21 PM CST. Check local resources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

The transit times of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, when it is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 2:50 UT, 12:45 UT, 22:41 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.

Photo Caption – (December 17, 1972) – Astronaut Ronald E. Evans is photographed performing extravehicular activity during the trans-Earth coast of the Apollo 17 spacecraft. During his EVA, Command Module Pilot Evans retrieved film cassettes from the Lunar Sounder, Mapping Camera, and Panoramic Camera.

This is the 50e anniversary of the last Apollo moon mission – Apollo 17. On December 17, 1972, on the way back to Earth, Ronald Evans left the command module for a 65-minute field trip to retrieve film canisters and data film from the experimentation room in the service module.

Here’s today’s planet forecast:

Morning Heaven

Chart Caption – 2022, December 17: The fat crescent moon is near Porrima in Virgo.

An hour before sunrise, the fat crescent moon, 39% illuminated, is about halfway south-southeast and 1.5° to the right of Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis. The lunar occults or occults the star for sky watchers in Hawaii, starting after 3:30 AM HST. This is the last lunar eclipse of a bright star this year.

Photo Caption – 2020, July 17: The crescent moon appears near Venus before sunrise. The night portion of the moon is softly illuminated by earthshine.

During the waning crescent phase, the moon begins to show earthshine, reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land. This light gently illuminates the lunar night. Binoculars or a spotting scope make the view clearer. A tripod-mounted camera with a short exposure captures the scene.

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The morning sky is without a bright planet, although Mars is barely above the western horizon at this hour. The view of the solar system changes to the evening sky, where a display of five planets begins to form shortly after sunset.

Evening sky

Chart Caption – December 17, 2022: Venus and Mercury are visible in the southwest during brighter evening twilight.

Mars and Venus are still a challenge. Half an hour after sunset, Venus is less than 5° up in the southwest, about 8° to the right of the southwest tip. At this point, the planet is likely visible without the optical aid of binoculars, but one may be needed to spot the planet in the first place.

Mercury is 5.9 degrees to the upper left of Venus. Both fit in a binocular field of view. Can you see Mercury without binoculars?

Mercury reaches its greatest angular distance from the sun on the 21st. Starting on the 24e, the crescent moon joins the scene. The two planets and the crescent moon are low in the western sky 45 minutes after sunset. If you haven’t seen Venus, look for a location with a clear horizon to the southwest so you can look for the five planets at once for about four nights. After that, Mercury is still present, but its brightness begins to fade quickly.

Skygazers at more southern latitudes have a better view of the two planets, higher in the sky and the worlds can be found a little later in a slightly darker sky

Chart caption – 2022, December 17: Jupiter and Saturn line up in the southern sky after sunset.

At this post-sunset time interval, Saturn is not visible about 35 degrees to the upper left of Mercury.

The Ringed Wonder is clearly visible an hour after sunset. It’s about a third of the way up in the south-southwest. It moves east against the stars to the east of Capricornus. This evening Saturn is 1.6 degrees from Nashira. The planet passes 1.3° from the star on the evenings of the 27e and 28e. Follow the path of the planet with binoculars every clear evening.

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Bright Jupiter is nearly 40 degrees to the left of Saturn. It’s the brightest star in the sky tonight, especially after Venus sets. Because Jupiter is farther east and away from the glare of early evening twilight in the west, Jupiter is likely visible when looking for Venus and Mercury.

Jupiter moves east against a faint star field in Pisces, much fainter than the one in Saturn’s celestial location tonight.

Chart caption – 2022, December 17: Mars is in front of Taurus after sunset, at the upper left of Aldebaran.

Mars, also likely visible low in the east-northeast when Mercury and Venus are visible, is slightly higher in the sky an hour after sunset. The planet is 8.4 degrees to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.

Chart Caption – The Opposition of Mars, 2022. This chart shows the motion of Mars compared to Tauris from August 16, 2022 through March 30, 2023.

The Red Planet continues to decline for Taurus. It passes Aldebaran again on the 26e and ends its retrograde on January 12. Mars passes through Aldebaran for the third and final conjunction on January 30e.

For the next 90 or so minutes, the three bright outer planets are easily seen simultaneously as they shift further west. Find them before Saturn disappears behind obstacles in the southwest.

Tomorrow morning Mars could be visible very close to the horizon in the west-northwest. For practical observations, it has disappeared into the thicker layers of the atmosphere near the horizon.

Meanwhile, the crescent moon is near the star Spica about an hour before daybreak.

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