December 22, 2022: Five planets will not be visible at the same time until 2036. From the sunset point, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars line up southwest to east-northeast.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: sunrise, 7:15 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:23 PM CST. Check local resources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight has reached the shortest time interval of the year, nine hours and eight minutes. 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: 1:59 UT, 11:55 UT, 21:50 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.
A rare sighting of the five bright planets occurs after sunset the following week. Faint planets Uranus and Neptune are also in the sky, but not as easily seen as the bright five worlds.
Planets look like stars to the naked eye. Venus is the brightest, followed by Jupiter and Mars. Mercury’s brightness varies greatly as it quickly moves from morning view to evening sky. It is fourth brightest followed by Saturn. The Ringed Wonder is brighter than most stars in the sky tonight, but it’s challenging to see during early twilight. Perhaps the 26th is the best night to see the worlde when the moon is near Saturn and points the way to it. Look for them over the next few clear evenings until the moon provides a clue to Saturn’s location.
Five planets will not be visible simultaneously again until mid-April 2036. On those evenings, the order from the sunset point is Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. They span only 88° at their closest.
The next time the planets will be in their planetary order from the sun will be early May 2100. On the acclaimed 2040 view, Mercury sets just 13 minutes after the sun, followed by Venus about 25 minutes after sunset. This screen is probably not visible to stargazers at northern latitudes.
Here’s today’s planet forecast:
The morning sky has no bright planets. The moon is near the new moon phase and is not easily visible until it appears along with Venus and Mercury in two evenings. The moon will begin its next lunar cycle tomorrow at 4:17 a.m. CST.
Meanwhile, several bright stars are in the sky this morning. Looking west an hour before sunrise, four bright stars arch over the horizon like an umbrella.
Capella, the brightest of the four, is nearly 20 degrees higher in the west-northwest. Castor and Pollux, above the west-northwest horizon, are higher than Capella. Procyon, slightly lower than Capella, is in the west-southwest.
Capella is near Mars and Aldebaran, but the planet and Taurus’ brightest star are below the western horizon at this hour. Look for it tonight when the sky is dark enough to see the fainter stars.
The five bright planets are visible in the sky after sunset.
First, find a location with a good view of the sky from southwest to east and northeast, especially toward the southwest. A hilltop or raised structure provides a good view over potential obstacles. Start watching about 30 minutes after sunset. At that time, Venus is nearly 5° above the southwest horizon. It is located to the right or north of the southwest tip. A compass, traditional or digital like on a smartphone, can help determine the direction of the planet. Venus is bright enough to be seen without optical aid at this level of twilight. Initially, use binoculars to find it. Then look it up without help.
Mercury is 5.0 degrees to the upper left of Venus and in the same binocular field of view as the Evening Star when Venus is positioned toward the lower right edge of the field. Can you see Mercury without binoculars?
Tag Venus and Mercury with a tree or distant landmark. By finding a planet and then comparing its location to a terrestrial feature, you can find it a few minutes later. It also helps you show others where to look for it. For example, “Standing here, you can see Mercury about halfway up the right side of that pine tree that’s next to the water tower.”
Currently, look for Jupiter about halfway south-southeast and Mars about 20 degrees above the east-northeast horizon.
The challenging one is Saturn. It is about 30° to the upper left of Mercury and the same distance above the south-southwest horizon. It is less than halfway between Jupiter and Mercury.
As the sky darkens for the next 10 minutes, keep looking for Venus and Mercury. They are lower in the southwest. Occasionally look for Jupiter and Mars. Try to see Saturn before Venus sets or disappears behind a distant point on the horizon.
Every evening, Venus is higher after sunset and the viewing window is longer.
Step back outside about two hours after sunset and look east. Mars is nearly halfway across the sky and 8.2 degrees to the upper left of Aldebaran.
Mars will continue to go retrograde until January 12e. It passes through Aldebaran in four evenings. When the planet returns to its eastward motion, it will pass the star again on January 30e.
Use binoculars to spot the Pleiades star cluster at the upper right of Mars. The blue stars resemble a miniature dipper. Several dozen stars are visible through the binoculars. Next, look for the Hyades cluster. With Aldebaran, the Hyades sketch the head of Taurus.
With its horns – Elnath and Zeta Tauri – lowered, the Bull seems about to attack, but it seems to move west as the Earth rotates at night, sending Taurus back into the sky go.