All Lined Up In a Row
Three planets and the moon greet the dawn
The waning crescent moon rises around midnight at week’s end and is high in the south come dawn. By the weekend, it rises in the wee hours of the night. Look for it just one degree below blue-white Spica before dawn Sunday. The next morning the moon rises later and is just a few degrees away from golden Saturn. Tuesday it is a thin crescent in the east, just two degrees below Venus.
The moon isn’t alone in the pre-dawn skies Monday and Tuesday, as it aligns spectacularly with Saturn, Venus and even fleet Mercury. Other than the moon, Venus is easily the brightest, just shy of magnitude –4. Above and to the right of Venus is Saturn, little brighter than your average star. Much brighter is Mercury, above and to the left of Venus. Mercury never strays far from the sun’s blinding glare, but it is visible in early morning skies low in the east for the next week.
As the late-afternoon sky darkens, Mars appears low in the southwest. The red planet has been clinging to the horizon for weeks, slipping ever lower, but it won’t be until late January that he disappears from view.
Jupiter rules the night skies, rising as the sun sets, reaching its zenith directly overhead around 11pm and setting at sunrise the next morning. Five degrees to the gas giant’s lower left is the orange star Aldebaran, while above Jupiter is the small question mark-shaped grouping of the Pleiades star cluster.
While we are still a couple weeks from winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — Friday marks our earliest sunset, which occurs at 4:45pm. Hereafter, the sun will again set a little later each night, albeit almost imperceptibly. Still, by solstice on the 21st, the sun sets at 4:49pm.
This year’s Geminid meteor shower peaks in the pre-dawn hours the 13th and 14th, so keep an eye out the next couple weeks.