The Planets for December 2014
Returning to the western evening twilight sky after superior conjunction with the Sun on the 8th, Mercury will be hard to spot until the end of the month. On the last day of the year the inner most planet lies less than
4 degrees to the west of the brightly shining Venus. An extremely thin crescent Moon will be a few degrees to the north of the pair on the 23rd of the month.
Low in the western evening twilight sky the “Evening Star” sets less than an hour later than the Sun at the beginning of December and 67 minutes after the Sun by the end of the month. It will get easier to observe over the coming months, setting later than the Sun as each day passes. The thin crescent of the waxing Moon will be nearby on the 23rd of the month.
The Sun reaches its most southerly position in the sky on the 22nd when the southern hemisphere experiences its longest day and its shortest night.
The red planet is also in the western evening sky this month and moves from Sagittarius into Capricornus on the 5th passing the faint globular star cluster, M75 as it does so. It is now a very poor object telescopically as it distance from the earth this month is roughly 283,000,000 km. The evening of Christmas day sees the four day old crescent Moon
6 degrees to the north west of Mars.
On the 1st of December Jupiter rises above the eastern horizon at 12:40 am but by the end of the month will be rising a full two hours earlier. It can be located in the constellation of Leo-The Lion and on the 1st sits
7.5 degrees to the north west of Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. This position in relation to Regulus begins to change on the 9th when Jupiter ceases its eastward motion against the starry background and starts its period of retrograde making it appear to move westward in relation to the stars as viewed from the Earth. The distance between Jupiter and Regulus increases to
by the month’s end. The waning gibbous Moon lies a few degrees to the south of Jupiter on the 12th.ce.
Not worth looking for early in December as Saturn rises only thirty minutes before the Sun as December begins. By the end of the month however it is worth the effort to get out of bed early to catch a glimpse of this magnificent object as by then will enter the morning twilight over two hours before the Sun. On the 20th the 28 day old waning crescent Moon lies
to the north of the ringed planet.
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The Planets for January 2015
This is not the best month for the observation of Mercury as even at its greatest elongation from the Sun on the 15th of the month it sets only one hour later than the Sun. It will be less than one degree to the west of the brighter planet Venus on the 11th which will be a help in locating Mercury in the western evening twilight. The inner planet heads back toward its inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 30th while Venus sets later than the Sun each day as the month progresses. By the end of the month it will set almost 90 minutes later than the Sun and may help in telescopically locating the outer planet Neptune situated less than two degrees to its north east. The very thin crescent of the waxing Moon will be close by on the 22nd of the month.
At perihelion (the closest point to the Sun in its orbit around the Sun) on the 4th and will be 147,096,146 km from the Sun.
Also situated in the western twilight sky the red planet can be found among the stars of Capricornus at the start of the month before crossing into Aquarius on the 9th. It sets 2
and a half hours later than the Sun at the beginning of the month but only 1hour
and 45 minutes after the Sun by month’s end. There will be less than
half a degree separation between Mars and Neptune on the 10th and 20th and the pair should make for an interesting colour contrast through the eyepiece of a telescope. The three day old waxing crescent Moon lies 5 degrees to the north of Mars on the 23rd.
The Giant planet rises at 10:37pm on the first of the month but by the end of January will rise a full two hours earlier. Still retrograding westward against the fixed stars of Leo it starts the month 8
degrees to the west of Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. This separation extends to 11
degrees by the end of the month. The 8th and 9th sees the waning gibbous Moon in attendance..
The first half of the month sees the ringed planet in Libra before crossing into Scorpius around the 19th. Rising at 3:30am on the 1st and by the end of the month sees it enter the eastern predawn sky at 1:30am less than 1
degree from Graffias Acrab, the star marking one of the claws of the Scorpion. This star lies at a distance of 540 light years and is a double star consisting of blue-white suns of magnitudes 2.6 and 4.9. The two are separated by 14 arc seconds and quite an interesting object even in small telescopes. The waning crescent Moon pays Saturn a visit on the 17th of the month.
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