December 25, 2022: The five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – put on a show on Christmas Eve after sunset.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, IL: Sunrise, 7:17 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:25 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight lengthens slowly, albeit slowly. Last sunrise time (7:18 a.m. CST) begins on the 28the and lasts until January 10e.
Transit time of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, 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, etc. Use a telescope to see the place. The hours are from Sky & Telescope magazine.
Here is today’s planetary forecast:
With the bright display of planets in the evening sky, no planets shine from the morning sky.
Two bright stars, Vega and Deneb, lie to the northeast before sunrise. They are also in the evening sky. They are far enough north that they can appear before sunrise in the eastern sky and in the west after sunset.
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 the Earth’s equator. The star is about 25 light years away. Its blue-white color indicates that it is warmer than our yellowish sun. It shines with a luminosity of about 100 suns. The star is about twice the diameter of the sun.
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. Although the star is not a supergiant, to shine with this intensity it is almost 60 times the diameter of our central star.
The display of the five planets continues on Christmas Eve. Start looking for it about 30 minutes after sunset. Find a bright spot to the southwest. A structure on top of a hill or elevated allows observation of potential obstacles. The five worlds are seen along an imaginary arc from southwest to east-northeast.
First attempt to locate Venus and Mercury. Bright Venus is about 5° above the southwest horizon and a little north of the southwest point. Mercury is in the same binocular field as Venus and 3.5° upper left of the Evening Star.
Venus is bright enough to see in this level of twilight, but Mercury is washed out. As the sky darkens, Mercury becomes visible to the naked eye along with Saturn.
45 minutes after sunset, the crescent moon, 9% illuminated and higher in the sky than last night, is about 15° above the southwest horizon. It is nearly 17° upper left of Mercury and more than 13° lower right of Saturn. The crescent is below an imaginary line from Mercury to Saturn.
Bright Jupiter is about halfway up the southern sky east of the southern cardinal point. It can be found earlier at dusk and can aid in the identification of Saturn. The gap between the giant planets is nearly 40 degrees, but this can help determine the arc where the planets lie.
Do not confuse Saturn with Fomalhaut. The star is lower in the south, slightly higher than the moon.
The fifth planet, Mars, is nearly 30° in the eastern sky with the stars Aldebaran and Capella. The planet is brighter than the most distant stars. Mars is almost at the same altitude – height above the horizon as Saturn.
At this point, you can see all five planets simultaneously from Venus in the southwest to Mars in the east, including the moon. The worlds are along an imaginary arc which is the plane of the solar system – known as the ecliptic.
Additionally, dim Uranus and Neptune are also in the sky – including Earth, the eight planets of the modern solar system model.
Tomorrow is probably the best night with the moon near Saturn, helping with the identification of the ringed wonder. The display crumbles with Mercury’s slow departure from the evening sky. It fades and begins to drop each evening. Venus continues to help with its identification.
After Mercury leaves the evening sky, four planets are visible for several weeks in early 2023. Venus passes Saturn on January 22n/a and Jupiter on March 1st.
The next time five planets will be in the sky simultaneously is in mid-April 2036.
Tonight, when the sky is darkest about two hours after sunset, Mars can be seen with the brightest stars in Taurus. Mars continues its retrograde illusion as it passes 8.2° Aldebaran tomorrow evening. After Mars resumed its seemingly normal eastward motion on January 12, it passes Aldebaran for the third time on January 30.e.
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