Venus, Evening Star, at its brightest the next two weeks, glows in Capricornus 40 degrees above the southwestern horizon from sunset until it sets in the southwest about 8 p.m. By nightfall the bright moon floats near ruddy Aldebaran in the V-shaped Hyades star cluster in Taurus, Bull. The delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades cluster) shimmer above them. Capella guides Auriga, Charioteer, higher in the northeast.
The Royal Family reigns in the north: Queen Cassiopeia, King Cepheus, Andromeda and Perseus. Aries, Ram, chases Pegasus, Winged Horse westward. Bright Jupiter rises in the east-northeast to the right of the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. The dim Beehive cluster lies below the Twins. Star clusters are spectacular in binoculars!
Gigantic Orion, Hunter, climbs up in the east, aiming at the Bull. Telescopes reveal the Great Orion Nebula (stellar nursery) glowing in Orion’s sword. Orion’s left shoulder is marked by the red supergiant star Betelgeuse. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion. Brilliant blue Sirius sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog in the southeast.
Phoenix spreads its wings on the southern horizon. Cetus, Whale, swims across the southeast. Outer planets blue-green Uranus (Pisces the Fish) follows dim blue Neptune (Aquarius) across the southwest. Fomalhaut twinkles below Neptune. Vega, in Lyra the Harp, leads the vast Summer Triangle lower in the northwest. Cygnus, Flying Swan, becomes the Northern Cross.
The winter moon becomes full at 4:28 a.m. At 11:30 p.m. aim telescopes at Jupiter. Callisto, one of Jupiter’s four closest satellite moons, will cast its tiny black shadow (a dot) across the upper area of Jupiter. Three hours later, sunlit Callisto will transit Jupiter.
Tonight the moon rises on the right of Jupiter in the east. Telescopes reveal Jupiter’s closest satellite moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Ruddy Mars rises in the southeast, about 1 a.m. in Virgo followed by Spica. Corvus, Crow flies across the south. Silver Saturn rises in the southeast by 5 a.m. in Libra. About 5:30 a.m. Hercules leads Vega above the northeastern horizon. Bright Arcturus, Herdsman, sparkles in the east. Dim Comet Lovejoy may be visible in binoculars between Vega and Arcturus.
The Big Dipper hangs in the north. Its bowl always faces Polaris, North Star. Polaris marks the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle. Leo, Lion crawls overhead. Capella lies near the northwestern horizon. Jupiter and the Gemini Twins drift into the northwest.
Winter Solstice occurs at 12:11 p.m. The sun reaches its southernmost point on the Tropic of Capricorn. Days are shortest and nights longest. At noon check the length of your shadow!
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org