Sky Watching December 2014

 Sun

The chart above shows the hours of daylight during the year (the red line). The blue shaded area shows the daylight hours during December. (Calculated from data from the U.S. Naval Observatory.)

December, the month of the shortest daylight hours, is upon us.  The day with the longest daylight is  December 1 with 9 hours, 22 minutes in the Chicago area.  The daylight hours decrease (9 hours, eight minutes) until the winter solstice.  The sun reaches is farthest south point on December 21 at 5:03 p.m. CST.  At this time the sun is overhead from 23 degrees south of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, at the Tropic of Capricorn.  By month’s end the daylight hours begin to lengthen (9 hours, 11 minutes) as the sun appears farther north during our planet’s annual journey around the sun.  We have lost 6 hours, 5 minutes of daylight since the summer solstice in June, the peak on the graph above.  (Click the images to see them larger.)

Moon

NASA Photo

NASA Photo

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
Full Moon 12/06/14 (6:27 a.m.) 4:57 p.m. 7:47 a.m. (12/07)
Las Quarter 12/14/14 (6:51 a.m.) 11:27 p.m. (12/13) 11:56 a.m.
New Moon 12/21/14 (7:36 p.m.) 7:27 a.m. 5:33 p.m.
First Quarter 12/28/14 (12:31 p.m.) 11:34 a.m. 12:30 a.m. (12/29)
Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

Evening Sky

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Jupiter is the bright “star” low in the east-northeast near midnight as the year’s final month opens.  It is about 7.5 degrees to the upper right of Regulus the brightest star in the constellation Leo.  At this hour, the head of the lion appears to the left of Jupiter.  Known to sky watchers as the “Sickle,” the star pattern resembles a backwards question, although it is named for the cutting tool used in agriculture.

By 5 a.m. Jupiter and Regulus are high in the southern sky.  On about August 22 each year, the sun appears to pass about 1/3 degree below Regulus.  Because the solar system is largely a plane, like that of a pancake and the bright planets move near the plane, the sun, moon and bright planets regularly appear near Regulus.  Regulus, along with several other stars, are signposts of the solar system.

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On December 12, the moon clusters with Jupiter and Regulus.  As explained above, this trio appears high in the south before sunrise.  On this evening, Jupiter is about 7.5 degrees to the upper right of Regulus and 6 degrees to the upper left of the moon.

By month’s end Jupiter rises in the eastern sky around 8 p.m. and shines in the sky during the rest of the night.

Venus begins its evening apparition (appearance) this month.  On December 1, it sets only 30 minutes after sunset and remains hidden in the sun’s glare.

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The brilliant planet appears low in the southwest during bright evening twilight at mid-month.  Depending on the clarity of the sky and the horizon, the first observation of Venus depends on local circumstances at mid-northern latitudes.  Venus and separated by about 30.5 degrees on the chart above which is about 35 minutes after sunset.

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The moon appears above (11 degrees) Venus on December 23rd during twilight.

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On the next evening, as shown on the chart above, the moon appears 6 degrees to the right of Mars.  Venus and Mars are about 28 degrees apart.  The planets continue to appear closer together in the western sky as the new year opens.  They appear closest in late February 2015.

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Mercury joins Mars and Venus in the western sky late in the month.  On December 31, Mercury is 3 degrees to the lower right of Venus and Mars is 24 degrees to the upper left of Venus.

For more about Venus’ evening apparition, see this article.

Morning Sky

With Jupiter rising later in the evening, it rises higher in the sky each hour.  Early in the month, it appears in the southern sky near sunrise.  As the month progresses, it appears farther west.  By month’s end, it appears high in the southwest near sunrise.

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Saturn emerges from behind the sun and into the morning sky during the month.  It rises in the southeastern sky just before sunrise.  On December 19, it appears with the waning crescent moon as depicted in the chart above.

By month’s end, all five naked eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) are visible during the night.  Bundle up, get outside the see Venus emerge from the sun’s glare in the evening sky and see Saturn emerge from the sun’s glare in the morning sky.

November 2104 Sky Watching

Welcome to November!  The length of daylight continues to diminish during November.  The northern mid-latitudes lose nearly an hour of daylight during the month.

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The blue area on the chart above indicates the length of daylight during November.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  With the switch back to standard time for most of the United States, the inevitable conversation occurs about daylight time and standard time.  A year ago. there was a discussion about changing to two time zones in the United States.  See commentary here.

NASA Photo

NASA Photo

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
Full Moon 11/06/14 (4:23 p.m.) 4:47 p.m. 7:06 a.m. (11/07)
Las Quarter 11/14/14 (9:15 a.m.) 11:46 p.m. 12:58 p.m. (11/15)
New Moon 11/22/14 (6:32 a.m.) 6:44 a.m. 4:56 p.m.
First Quarter 11/29/14 (4:06 a.m.) 12:21 p.m. 12:22 a.m. (11/30)
Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

Evening Sky

Mars is the only planet visible in the early evening sky  during the month.

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It is in front of the stars of Sagittarius low in the southwestern sky.  It sets about 3 hours after sunset, although it appears near the southwest horizon during early evening.

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Late in the month, the crescent moon moves past Mars.  On the evening of November 25, the moon is about 8 degrees to the right of Mars.  On the next evening.  the moon stands about 9.5 degrees above the Mars.

Jupiter

During November Jupiter moves into the evening sky.  Early in November it rises in the east-northeast around midnight.  It is well up in the southeastern sky at sunrise.

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It appears about 9.5 degrees to the upper right of Regulus.  Jupiter is now the brightest starlike object in the sky, until Venus reappears in the evening sky at month’s end.  It is slightly brighter than Sirius, the brightest star, that  appears low in the south during November mornings.

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Near mid-month, the moon moves through the region; on November 14, the last quarter moon appears near Jupiter and Regulus.  While the chart above shows the trio at 5 a.m., the moon rises just before midnight and can be seen in the eastern sky from moonrise until the sky brightens.  During the daytime with a very clear sky, Jupiter may be visible through binoculars by using the moon as  guide to fine it.

Mercury

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Mercury is the headliner in the morning sky.  It is at its best morning appearance of the year in the eastern morning sky.  The planet always appears near the sun.   During autumn, the solar system’s plane makes a very sharp angle with the horizon.  If Mercury is near its greatest separation with the sun, it appears a little higher in the sky.  The chart above includes a sketch of Mercury’s orbit (in red) showing the planet at the greatest separation it can have from the sun.  On the chart above, the star Spica appears about 4.5 degrees to the lower right of Mercury and will help identify it.  Locate a viewing spot with a  clear horizon.

Venus and Saturn

Venus and Saturn  are not visible this month.  Venus passed superior conjunction late last month and is moving into the evening sky, appearing low in the southwest around month’s end.  See our forecast for the appearance of Venus in the evening sky.  Saturn moves behind the sun (conjunction) on November and reappears in the morning sky later in December.

November provides a few planets for observing.  The view of Mercury early in the month is this year’s best opportunity to see the planet in the morning sky.  Jupiter rise high across the sky with a bright star nearby and the moon appearing with the planet at midmonth.  With more night hours in November sky watching awaits!

Jupiter and Moon This Morning, October 17, 2014

The moon and Jupiter, October 17, 2014, 6:40 a.m. CDT

The moon and Jupiter, October 17, 2014, 6:40 a.m. CDT

The crescent moon and Jupiter appear in the southeastern sky this morning at 6:40 a.m. CDT as seen from the Chicago area. The pair is 8 degrees apart.

Tomorrow morning (October 18), the moon is 8 degrees below the moon and 7 degrees to the right of the star Regulus.

For more about the planets see:

October 2014 Sky Watching

Lunar Eclipse Morning, October 8, 2014

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The best part of the lunar eclipse occurs for less than an hour this morning. This image was made at 5:30 a.m. CDT.

Jupiter This Morning, October 8, 2014

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While the lunar eclipse nears its total eclipse phase in the western sky, brilliant Jupiter shines through gaps in the clouds in the eastern sky.  This morning, Jupiter is about 13 degrees to the upper right of Regulus.

Jupiter This Morning, October 1, 2014

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That bright Morning Star in the eastern sky is Jupiter. With Venus fading into brilliant morning twilight, Jupiter reigns as the brightest starlike object in the sky. With a sky full of bright stars during the morning predawn hours, do no confuse Jupiter with Sirius, the bright star in the southeast in the morning.  This morning Jupiter is about 14 degrees to the upper right of Regulus, the bright star in Leo.   This posting from nearly a year ago shows the morning sky with Jupiter and Mars.  Since then,  Jupiter is farther east in the next constellation.  Mars is about 120 degrees to the east and now appears in the southwest in the evening sky.

For more about the planets see:

October 2014 Sky Watching

October 2014 — Sky Watching

Sun

Solar Eclipse

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The afternoon of October 23rd brings a partial solar eclipse to the Chicago area.  The eclipse occurs during the late afternoon and is in progress as the sun sets at 5:59 p.m.  A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves in front of the sun and obscures the sun’s light.  The eclipse begins at 4:36 p.m. when the moon begins to cross in front of the sun.  The moon continues to move in front of the sun as the sun descends toward the western horizon.  The chart above shows the eclipse at 5:15 p.m. when the sun and moon pair is about 7 degrees above the western horizon. The eclipse continues through sunset when over 50% of the sun is covered.

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Should the sky be clear to the horizon, seeing a setting solar eclipse is a dramatic event.  The image above shows a sunset solar eclipse in May 2012 as seen from Page, Arizona.

It is important to note to not view the solar eclipse directly without a high quality optical astronomical filter that eliminates the sunlight that can permanently damage eyesight.

Sun During October

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During the month, the Chicago area loses another hour of daylight as displayed in the chart above.  By month’s end the sun is in the sky for only 9 hours, 23 minutes.  The sun now  rises south of east and sets south of east.  It is less than halfway up in the southern sky at noon.

 

 

 

NASA Photo

NASA Photo

 

 

Moon

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
First Quarter 10/01/14 (2:33 p.m.) 1:52 p.m. 11:59 p.m.
Full Moon 10/08/14 (5:51 a.m.) 5:58 p.m. (10/07) 6:03 a.m.
Last Quarter 10/15/14 (2:12 p.m.) 11:13 p.m. (10/14) 1:47 p.m.
New Moon 10/23/14 (4:57 p.m.) 6:51 a.m. 5:58 p.m.
First Quarter 10/30/14 (9:48 p.m.) 1:24 p.m. 12:04 a.m. (10/31)
Times are Central Daylight Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

 

The moon and Mars were near each other during the lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014.  Click the image to see the eclipsed moon, Spica, and Mars.

The moon and Mars were near each other during the lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014. Click the image to see  the eclipsed moon, Spica, and Mars.

Lunar Eclipse (October 8, 2014)

On the morning of October 8, the full moon moves into our planet’s shadow for a dramatic (and easily seen) lunar eclipse, replicating the lunar eclipse that was visible across North America in April.  (See the image above for the view of that eclipse.)  The total portion of the eclipse is visible across all of North America.  The eclipse is fully observed from the Pacific Ocean and regions nearby, including the Pacific Time Zone.  The total portion of the eclipse lasts 59 minutes, between 5:25 a.m. and 6:24 a.m. CDT.

Here are the events of the night of October 7/8, 2014, as seen from the Chicago area in the Central Time Zone:

  • October 7: Moonrise, 5:58 p.m.
  • Sunset, 6:24 p.m.
  • October 8: Moon begins to enter dimmer penumbra shadow, 3:15 a.m.  This part of the eclipse is not visible for most observers.
  • Partial eclipse begins, 4:14 a.m.  The moon begins moving into the darker core of Earth’s shadow.  Part of the moon is brightly illuminated and the remainder is in brighter sunlight.
  • Total Lunar Eclipse, 5:25 – 6:24 a.m.  The moon is less than 15 degrees above the western horizon and descending as it moon is immersed in the shadow for 59 minutes.
  • Partial eclipse begins, 6:25 a.m.  The moon slowly moves from the darker shadow.  The moon is now less than 7 degrees from the western horizon.
  • Sunrise, 6:57 a.m.
  • Moonset, 7:03 a.m.  The moon sets with the sky brightly illuminated and in partial eclipse.

Evening Sky

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Mars and Saturn are low in the southwestern sky as October opens.  Mars is about 4 degrees to the upper left of the star Antares.  Do not confuse the the planet and the star.  Both are about the same brightness and nearly the same color.  Mars’ color is reflected sunlight, Antares from its temperature.  Saturn is about 20 degrees to the right of Antares.  Saturn sets around 8:30 p.m. and Mars around 9:30 p.m.  During the month the sky slowly shifts westward at the same time.

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By month’s end the waxing crescent moon appears near Mars on October 27 and 28.

Morning Sky

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Jupiter is the bright Morning Star in the eastern predawn sky.  It is about 14 degrees to the upper right of the star Regulus.

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At mid-month the moon passes through the morning sky with the moon near Jupiter on the mornings of October 17 and 18.

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Mercury appears low in the eastern sky late in the month.  Find a clear horizon to see the planet low in the sky.  Binoculars may be helpful to see the planet.

Venus is rapidly leaving the morning sky.  On October 25, Venus passes superior conjunction and moves into the evening sky.  See this article for Venus’ appearance in the evening sky.

October 2014 provides several interesting sky events and transitions.  Look for the morning lunar eclipse and use high quality astronomical filters to view the solar eclipse.

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