As the month began, star and planet gazers have already had a chance to see Mercury and Venus in the evening sky alongside the crescent moon and as we progress into the month, more and more such sightings can be enjoyed.
On December 1 the moon was above Mercury that was low in the evening sky. On December 2nd the moon was visible above Venus and the same alignment can be witnessed today in the evening. If you haven’t managed to see the Venus and moon together, here’s what you do:
Face south-southwest about 45 minutes after sunset during midtwilight and you’ll undoubtedly spot the beautiful crescent moon. Just about 7 degrees below the moon and slightly to the right you will see the planet Venus – aka the dazzling evening star. If you don’t have any instruments handy, the best thing to remember would be to clench your fist and hold it at arm’s length – this is equal to roughly 10 degrees.
On Sunday, i.e. December 4th, the moon will be 25 per cent illuminated and will be close to Mars in the evening sky.
A few days after these alignments, on December 12, star Aldebaran will disappear or occult behind the moon in the evening sky. A day after that the timing of the Geminids meteor shower could not have been any worse since it would be full moon and because of that the otherwise bright Geminids will be putting up a rather lacklustre show. On December 22, the moon is above Jupiter and star Spica in the morning sky.
On New Year’s Eve, Mars will have a rare close encounter with the planet Neptune. The best way to see the event is through the telescope. Head out to the open on December 31st evening and set your telescope to centre Mars and then look for a dim nearby star. That’s Neptune.
As the evening wears away Mars and Neptune will drift closer to each other and will only be 11 arc minutes away from each other. Observers on the West Coast will even see a closer view. The two objects will only be four arc minutes apart. Further into the evening, the two objects continue to drift closer together until they are only one arc minute apart. However, we won’t see it since it occurs below the horizon.
Venus will be the highlight of December and January as it climbs progressively higher in the sky and consequently will set later after sundown. On Jan. 12, Venus will arrive at its greatest eastern elongation, or its greatest angular distance east of the sun. Just a few days later, the planet will be setting almost 4 full hours after the sun. And during the first 10 days of February, Venus will stand 40 degrees above the southwest horizon at sunset, soaring as high as it will get for this current evening apparition.