The earliest sunsets occur this week: 5:30 p.m. At dusk, dim Mars hovers 8 degrees above the southwest horizon and sets about 7:30 p.m. Jupiter, bright Evening Star, rises in the east-northeast in Taurus, Bull. Jupiter and the orange star Aldebaran (Bull’s red eye) anchor each side of the V-shaped Hyades star cluster (Bull’s face). The Seven Sisters (Pleiades star cluster) shimmer above. Bright Capella guides the Charioteer across the northeast.
The Royal Family reigns in the north: King Cepheus, Queen Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus. Blue-green Uranus, in Pisces the Fish, drifts across the south. Dim blue Neptune, in Aquarius, lies low in the southwest. Aries, Ram, chases Pegasus (Winged Horse) westward. Vega leads the Summer Triangle lower in the northwest. Cygnus, Swan, becomes the Northern Cross within the Triangle. Mid-evening, huge Orion, Hunter, reclines in the east. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion. The Gemini Twins appear in the northeast. Bright blue Sirius (a nearby star) sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog in the southeast.
By 6 a.m., Spica, in Virgo, leads the parade of planets in the east: The waning crescent moon rises 4 degrees from silver Saturn; brilliant Venus, Morning Star, glows above Mercury; bright Jupiter sets in the northwest.
Before dawn, aim binoculars/cameras at the crescent moon 2 degrees from Venus.
The closest New Moon of 2012 occurs at 3:42 a.m. High tides may flood shorelines. The Geminid Meteor Shower will be most intense late evening Thursday/dawn Friday. From a dark, rural site, 60 meteors per hour may be visible with colorful trains radiating from the Twins.
By 6:30 p.m., the young moon drifts to the right of Mars in the southwest.
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org