Four planets linger in the evening sky: Venus, the brilliant "diamond" hangs 42 degrees above the southwestern horizon. The Goddess of the Night drifts into Capricornus and sets about 8:30 p.m. Outer planets blue-green Uranus, in Pisces the Fish, follows dim blue Neptune, in Aquarius, across the southwest. Fomalhaut twinkles below Neptune. About 8 p.m. bright Jupiter rises in the east and glows to the right of the Gemini Twins: Castor and Pollux. The dim Beehive cluster shimmers below the Twins.
The Royal Family: King Cepheus, Queen Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus reign in the north. Capella guides Auriga, Charioteer, higher in the northeast. Overhead Aries, Ram, chases Pegasus, Winged Horse, westward. The delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades star cluster) lead Taurus, Bull to the Zenith. Ruddy Aldebaran (Bull's red eye) winks from the V-shaped Hyades cluster (Bull's face) in the east. Star clusters are spectacular in binoculars!
Gigantic Orion, Hunter, climbs higher in the east in pursuit of the Bull. Telescopes reveal the Great Orion Nebula (stellar nursery) glowing from his sword, the four closest satellite moons that dance around Jupiter and outer planets Uranus and Neptune. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion. Brilliant blue Sirius (a nearby star) sparkles in Orion's Big Dog in the southeast. Vega leads the vast Summer Triangle lower in the northwest. Cygnus, Flying Swan inside the Triangle, becomes the Northern Cross.
First quarter moon phase occurs 10:12 a.m. Tonight the moon floats between Neptune (right) and Uranus (left)
Four planets are visible in the predawn: ruddy Mars rises in the east, in Virgo, soon after midnight and is highest in the southeast before sunrise. Silver Saturn rises in Libra in the southeast about 5 a.m. Mercury descends onto the southeastern horizon. Corvus, Crow flies ahead of Spica, in Virgo, in the southeast. Leo, Lion, crawls overhead. Bright Arcturus, Herdsman, sparkles in the east. The Big Dipper hangs in the north. Jupiter drifts into the northwest near the Twins. Capella, the Pleiades and Hyades slip lower in the northwest. Sirius sparkles in the southwest. Procyon follows Orion onto the western horizon. Comet Ison melted as it cruised near the surface of the sun.
Annual Geminid meteor shower may begin late Friday evening, radiating from Castor (Twin above Pollux). in the northeast. The yellowish Geminids may be visible through Dec. 17 and reach maximum activity zipping overhead at 80,000 mph 1-2 a.m. Saturday. Bright moonlight reduces the hourly rate to about 40. Moonset occurs at 4:30 a.m. in the west. Meteors and a fireball may be visible before dawn at 5:45 a.m.
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org