Do you have a clear horizon from east to west? If so, try again tonight – December 19, 2013 – to see the dazzling planet Venus sitting over your west-southwest horizon, as the planet Jupiter shines opposite of Venus in the east-northeast sky. From most places worldwide, the waning gibbous moon won’t follow Jupiter into the sky until after Venus sets.
Once Jupiter and the moon rise this evening, they’ll be out for rest of the night. Look for the moon and Jupiter to soar highest up for the night at roughly 2 a.m. your local time (that’s approximately the same time, on all clocks, as seen from around the globe). At or near daybreak, the moon and Jupiter light up the western sky.
The moon was closer to Jupiter yesterday evening, on December 18, than it will be tonight. That’s because the moon in its orbit travels eastward around the Earth, going full circle in front of the constellations of the Zodiac in about four weeks. Tomorrow, on December 20, the moon will be even farther away from Jupiter, and will rise at a later hour. Why? Because the moon rises about an hour later every night, as it orbits toward the east around Earth.
Jupiter, on the other hand, will be rising only about four minutes earlier each night. Earth in its faster, smaller around the sun is catching up with the slower-moving king planet, Jupiter. We’ll pass in between the sun and Jupiter from the inside track in early January 2014. At that time, Jupiter, the fifth planet outward from the sun, will be at opposition – opposite the sun in our sky. At opposition on January 5, 2014, Jupiter will rise in the east at sunset, climb highest up for the night at midnight and set in the west at sunrise.
So start watching Jupiter now, and enjoy it in the coming weeks!
Bottom line: Tonight – December 19, 2013 – watch for Venus in the sunset direction, as soon as the sun goes down. Then see the waning gibbous moon and the king planet Jupiter climb over the east-northeast horizon at early evening.