Tuesday morning January 1st the thin 25-day old waning crescent Moon (apparent magnitude -10.96) will be within 3-4o from the inner planet Venus (apparent magnitude -4.47) and 1-2o from the Dwarf Planet Ceres (apparent magnitude 8.0). All three will fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars.
Sunday morning December 30th the 23-day old waning crescent Moon (apparent magnitude -11.76) will be 5-6o from the blue-white star Spica in the constellation of Virgo the Harvest Maiden. Both the Moon and Spica (apparent magnitude 0.96) will fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars.
Rising about an hour after the Moon and Spica is another pair of celestial objects, the hard to miss Venus (apparent magnitude -4.48) is within 2-3o from the Dwarf Planet Ceres (apparent magnitude 8.0). Both of these will easily fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars.
Wait about an hour, depending on your eastern horizon, and the planet Jupiter (apparent magnitude -1.8) will be about 5-6o from the reddish star Antares (apparent magnitude 1.0) in the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion. And they will be high enough above the horizon to be more visible. Both Jupiter and Antares will fit within the field of view of binoculars.
This was the sky this morning with the International Space Station passing from west to the northeast and along the way passing my chimney and the North Star. The ISS, as it was rising, passed near the waning gibbous Moon, as the Moon was setting. However, the camera was aimed toward the North Star away from the Moon as the ISS past by the Moon.
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Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening December 25th and the 26th the 18 and 19-day old waning gibbous Moon will pass by the star Regulus. Regulus is the heart of Leo the Lion and shines with an apparent magnitude of 1.34.
Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest distance to Earth), for this orbit on Monday December 24th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 28.30 Earth diameters 224,352 miles (361,060 km) from the Earth.
Monday December 24th the waning gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north relative to the ecliptic. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.
Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”
Friday and Saturday mornings, December 21st and 22nd, the outer planet Jupiter and the inner planet Mercury will be within a couple of degrees from each other. Both rise about an hour before sunrise local time and will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars.
According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Capricornus the Sea Goat on Friday December 21st when in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer.
In reality the Sun will have reached the celestial coordinates of 23.5o degrees south declination; 18 hours right ascension. With regard to the Earth’s surface this places the Sun over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is at 23.5o south latitude. We also know that it is the Earth’s tilt on its axis that is the cause for seasons on Earth rather than the distance between the Earth and the Sun. And of course we know that this signals the start of northern hemisphere winter and the southern hemisphere summer seasons.
The official time for the change of seasons is December 21st at 22:25 UT (4:25 pm CST).
And for those ‘insanely curious’ like me, while the Sun is at 23.5o South declination and ‘in’ Sagittarius the Earth is opposite at 23.5o North declination and at the feet of the Gemini Twins.
The animated graphic below sets the stage, so to speak, to illustrate the Sun’s actual location with respect to the zodiac constellations in the background. This is as opposed to the location of the Sun according to the pseudoscience of Astrology. The scene is set for 12:15 CST, or mid-day when the Sun is at an azimuth of 180o, or south, and is mid-way between rising and setting. Starting with the Sun at mid-day the scene changes as first the daytime sky is turned off, followed by the horizon being turned off.
This leaves a sky view like during a total solar eclipse except that the Sun is not blocked out by the new Moon. And like during that solar eclipse the zodiac constellations in the background become visible. Then the following are added starting first with Sagittarius, then Capricorn, and then the ecliptic and celestial equator are added to show the relationship between the two constellations and what makes them plus another 11 constellations the astronomical zodiac of 13 constellations. The animation ends with the addition of the constellation boundary lines and labels for the rest of the constellations in this setting.
It is the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun which, if it crosses the boundary of a constellation, makes that constellation one of the zodiac. And during December the Sun’s apparent path takes it across the constellation of Sagittarius rather than Capricorn.
Thursday evening December 20the the nearly full 13.5-day waxing gibbous Moon will be within 3o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran is part of the open star cluster the Hyades, a v-shaped asterism making up the face of Taurus.
Tuesday December 18th the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion and into the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position.
Comet Wirtanen (69P) has brightened enough to be seen with binoculars and easily captured with a camera. This picture was taken around 6:30 pm CST on December 15th while the skies were hazy with high cirrus clouds and a first quarter Moon over the southern horizon. That combined with light polluted skies of the Kansas City metropolitan area brightened the skies and made the comet not visible with the naked eye but easy to find as it was near the Pleiades open star cluster.
The picture was taken with a Canon Rebel EOS T7i camera with the following settings: 135 mm lens; 13 second exposure time; aperture 5.6; and ISO 32000. The 13 second exposure time was long enough to show short length star trails as the Earth rotated.
This evening, December 16th Comet Wirtanen will still be within a few degrees from the Pleiades again making it fairly easy to locate.
With the Moon waxing from first quarter through full Moon phase and moving past the comet over the next few days means that the comet will not be too visible until the Moon passes by and rises after the comet does. The animated graphic, below, shows the motion of the Moon and the comet between December 15th through December 24th. By the 23rd the comet will be within a few degrees from the bright star Capella in Auriga the Charioteer.