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View moon and three planets before dawn December 29

2013-december-28-saturn-moon-night-sky-chart

Tonight for December 28, 2013

Look for Jupiter and the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux in the east-northeast at dusk and nightfall.

Look for Jupiter and the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux, ascending in the east at dusk and nightfall.

Look for Mars and Spica in the southern sky before sunrise

Look for Mars and Spica before sunrise

This chart shows a large portion of the early morning sky for Sunday, December 29.   The moon, Spica, Mars and Saturn enable you to see the ecliptic with the mind's-eye.

This chart shows a large portion of the early morning sky for Sunday, December 29. The moon, Spica, Mars and Saturn can help you visualize the ecliptic, or plane of the solar system, with the mind’s-eye.

At evening dusk, look in the southwest - or in the general direction of sunset - to catch Venus hovering over the horizon. It'll set shortly after sunset.

You can still catch Venus at evening dusk, too. Look in the general direction of sunset as soon as the sun goes down. Venus will be shining in bright twilight and will set shortly after sunset.

It’s a wonderful time to view the predawn sky! Look in the direction of sunrise before dawn on Sunday, December 29 for very thin waning moon in the vicinity of the ringed planet Saturn, the most distant planet you can see with your eye alone. And there will be two other planets in the predawn and dawn sky as well. The dazzling planet Jupiter will beam in the west and the red planet Mars will shine in the southern sky just before dawn (from southerly latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Mars appears in the north to northeast).

The waning crescent moon and Saturn will rise into the predawn sky at roughly 4 a.m. local time at mid-northern latitudes. At latitudes farther south, the moon and Saturn will rise earlier yet. They are visible from around the world. Look for the darkened portion of the crescent moon to glow dimly. This glow is called earthshine.

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But don’t wait until tomorrow to view planets. The grand procession of planets starts out first at evening dusk and continues onward until morning dawn, and is visible in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Venus and Jupiter – the brightest and second-brightest planets, respectively – burst onto the scene first thing after sunset. But you have to catch Venus low in the southwest almost as soon as darkness falls because this world sets about 90 minutes after sunset at mid-northern latitudes (even sooner at more southerly latitudes).

Jupiter shines opposite of Venus at nightfall, but Jupiter – unlike Venus – stays out all night long. Mars then rises in the east at or around midnight (1 a.m. daylight-saving time) worldwide, but the red planet is found highest up in the sky just before dawn. Last but hardly least, the moon and the ringed planet Saturn rise in the wee hours before dawn.

However, you don’t have to stay up all night to see all four planets. Catch Venus and Jupiter at dusk and nightfall. Then wake up before dawn to view Mars and Saturn.

Conveniently, the moon acts as your guide to Saturn on December 29. By the way, the word saturnine refers to the gloomy disposition associated with lead poisoning. At one time, alchemists thought the planet Saturn possessed lead-like properties.

In contrast, the ancient Romans honored the god Saturn as a benevolent force in their winter solstice celebrations, the Saturnalia, occurring annually from December 17 to December 25. The Saturnalia was marked by gift-giving and merrymaking, with candles casting out the winter darkness and evergreen wreaths serving as a reminder of the continuance of life. It’s thought the modern day celebration of Christmas may have roots in this ancient Roman festival.

Bottom line: Let the moon guide you to the planet Saturn before dawn on Sunday, December 29. Before dawn on that day, you can see two other planets, too: Jupiter and Mars.

Never miss another full moon. Order your 2014 EarthSky Lunar Calendar today!

Recommended sky almanacs can give you rising and setting times of the sun, moon and planets in your sky

When can you see earthshine on a crescent moon?