A Full House of Planets
See if you can find the naked-eye five
The waning crescent moon rises later and later in pre-dawn skies through the weekend before disappearing behind the sun with Tuesday’s new moon.
Look for the moon Friday before sunrise in the southeast just a few degrees above Spica in the constellation Virgo. Closer to the horizon, and rising just a half-hour before the sun, are Mercury and Saturn. A thin sliver of moon pays a visit to the two planets early Sunday morning. Saturn is just a couple degrees above the moon, while brighter Mercury is nestled low in the growing glow of the coming dawn. Should Comet ISON have survived its turn around the sun, you may be able to see it even lower to Mercury’s left.
The new crescent moon reemerges in early evening skies Wednesday when it hovers 10 degrees to the lower right of brilliant Venus for a half-hour after sunset low in the southwest. There should be no mistaking Venus, as aside from the moon it is the brightest nighttime celestial object. Over December, this evening star will appear lower night by night before disappearing behind the sun in the first week of the new year.
As Venus sets in the west-southwest, the next-brightest celestial object rises opposite it in the east-northeast. By midnight, Jupiter will be high in the east, and come sunrise you’ll find the king of the planets high in the west.
While currently not as bright as the other naked-eye planets, Mars rises into view around 1am. It shines as bright as any nearby stars, its steady ruddy hue setting it apart. The red planet is flanked 20 degrees to the west by the bright star Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion, and 20 degrees to the east by Spica.
With any luck, Comet ISON will have survived its near encounter with the sun, in which case it will again appear in the east-southeast before dawn. Each day it will appear a little earlier and climb a little higher. But whether it will continue to grow brighter is still anyone’s guess. Better keep an eye out.