May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Sky-Watching Activities, December 2012 to Early January 2013

Posted: Monday, December 3rd, 2012

by Robert C. Victor

Two difficult observations on Wednesday, December 12:

(1) Just over an hour before sunrise, try to see four planets simultaneously. It’s harder than it was two weeks earlier. Beginning with Venus, note Saturn 18° to its upper right, and Mercury just risen in ESE 6.5° to Venus’ lower left. When Mercury is 4° up, Jupiter is also 4° up, but in the opposite direction, WNW. If mountains don’t block your view, you might see all four of these planets at once. Note: Saturn-Venus-Mercury lie in a straight line. (2) Next, even more difficult, wait until about 30 minutes before sunrise, then extend the Mercury to Venus line 9° lower left of Mercury, and, using binoculars, there you may find a very thin crescent old Moon less than 3° above the horizon. From the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, the Moon is just 18.5 hours before New. (New Moon occurs on Thursday, Dec. 13 at 12:42 a.m. PST). 

Extremely young Moon in early dusk on Thursday, December 13:

This is even more challenging. Using binoculars, look about 25 minutes after sunset, very low, about 25° to 30° south of due west, only about 3° above the horizon. The sky will have to be exceedingly clear. The Moon will be only 9° from the Sun, and will appear as a very fine hairline crescent, less than a semicircle in extent. Near the Coachella Valley, from places where local mountains don’t block the view, the Moon’s age (time elapsed since New) will be only about 16 hours 20 minutes.

If you succeed in seeing these opposing crescents on consecutive days, the old Moon in morning twilight on Dec. 12 and the young Moon at dusk on Dec. 13, you will be in very rare company. Either sighting by itself would be noteworthy.

The Moon’s absence leaves the sky dark for a fine view of the Geminid meteor shower, at its best on the night of Dec. 13-14, from late evening until dawn.

The waning crescent will be easy on the morning of Dec. 11 and the waxing crescent will be easy on the evening of Dec. 14, if skies are clear.

Follow the Moon one hour after sunset December 14-25.

On Friday, Dec. 14, look about one hour after sunset to find the crescent Moon, 4 percent full, about 30 degrees south of west and some 9 degrees up. Note Mars 7° to Moon’s upper left.

On Sat. Dec. 15, one hour after sunset, the crescent Moon is higher and thicker, 10 percent full. Find Mars 11° below the Moon.

On Wed. Dec. 19, an hour after sunset, the Moon is in the southern sky, nearly half full. Approaching First Quarter phase, the Moon is nearly 90 degrees from the Sun.

On Mon. Dec. 24, find the waxing gibbous Moon in the eastern sky, 5° south of the Pleiades star cluster.

On Tues. Dec. 25, at sunset, the Moon is 20° up and about 20° north of east, with Jupiter about 1.3° above the Moon’s center. Can you spot Jupiter before sunset? If you received a pair of binoculars for a present, this would be a good time to try them out. By an hour after sunset, Jupiter will appear 1.6° above the Moon. They spread to about 3° apart as they pass just south of overhead about 10 p.m. About three hours before sunrise on Wed. Dec. 26, find Jupiter sinking into the WNW about 5° lower right of the Moon.

Follow the waning Moon one hour before sunrise Dec. 27-Jan. 10:

Th Dec 27  Moon setting in WNW, nearly Full.

Fr Dec 28   Moon LL of Twins, UR of Procyon.

Sa Dec 29  Moon left of Twins, above Procyon.

Tu Jan 01   Moon below Regulus.

We Jan 02  Moon left of Regulus.

Th Jan 03   From California, the Quadrantid meteor best just before morning twilight begins, about 1.5 hours before sunrise.

Sa Jan 05   Moon 3° right of Spica; note Saturn 16° LL of Spica.

Su Jan 06   Moon 7° right of Saturn and 11° LL of Spica.

Mo Jan 07  Moon 10° LL of Saturn.

Tu Jan 08   Moon 24° LL of Saturn and 8° above Antares, heart of the Scorpion.

We Jan 09  Crescent Moon low in SE, 11° LL of Antares and 12° UR of Venus.

Th Jan 10   Last crescent Moon (2%) very low in ESE, 3° left of Venus.

Fr Jan 11   New Moon, 11:44 a.m. PST.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.