Jupiter (magnitude -2.0) and Saturn (0.6) become visible in the southwest evening twilight. The two planets currently appear about one moon-width apart and continue to inch closer together until December 21. That evening, Jupiter and Saturn appear just 0.1° apart, meaning the two planets can be seen in the same telescopic field of view at low power. Both planets currently set just after 7:00pm, but by mid-January they will set about 45 minutes after sunset.
Mars (-0.7) becomes visible high in the southeastern sky as darkness falls. The red planet currently sets in the west just before 2:30am and becomes dimmer over the next month. By mid-January, Mars shines at magnitude 0.1 and sets in the west-northwest around 1:30am. The moon appears about 6° below Mars the evening of December 23. Then on the night of January 20, the first quarter moon appears just below Mars, with distant Uranus (5.8) directly between them and closer to Mars.
Mercury (-0.9) returns to the evening sky in mid-January, setting in the southwest about an hour after sunset. The innermost planet sets later each evening but rapidly dims until reaching magnitude 1.1 by the end of the month. The week of January 17, especially later that week, should provide the best viewing.
Venus (-4.0) currently rises in the east-southeast around 6:00am, and about a half hour later by mid-January.
The Ursids meteor shower is active from December 17 to 26, peaking the night of December 21-22. Normally a lower volume shower, this year the Earth passes near several past debris trails of comet 8P/Tuttle, the source of the Ursids. The debris trail left in the year 829 is predicted to produce the most favorable peak between 10:00-10:30pm on December 21. Unfortunately, west coast observers will need to deal with the first quarter moon. To view the Ursids, look to the northern sky, about half way between the horizon and zenith.
First (12/21), full (12/29), last (1/6), new (1/13), first (1/20), full (1/28)
Friends of Galileo
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