Thursday morning January 3rd the 27.25-day old thin waning crescent Moon will be within 3-4o from the outer planet Jupiter. The two will easily within the field of view of binoculars. Jupiter is about 5-6o from the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion, the reddish star Antares.
Wednesday January 2nd the planet Saturn will have reached the astronomical coordinates that officially place it at solar conjunction. From our perspective the planet is behind the Sun, or on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth.
In reality it is not as much as Saturn moving behind the Sun as it is the Sun passing in front of Saturn – or so it seems. As a distant outer planet Saturn moves more slowly around the Sun than the Earth does. One year on Saturn is equal to 29.7 years (10,832 days) on Earth. So in one day Saturn would travel how much of the 360o orbit around the Sun? That would amount to approximately 0.033o each day.
The Sun, in its apparent motion along the ecliptic moves at the rate the Earth is moving which is 0.99o each day. So with the Sun’s apparent motion (0.99o/day) it quickly, relative to Saturn, passes Saturn while both are moving eastward. So with that in mind you could start watching for Saturn to reappear in the morning skies later next month.
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.
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.