As the year turns, watch the moon sweep past 3 planets

Click for info on the Quadrantid meteor shower, peaking late night January 3 to early morning January 4, 2019

Happy New Year! Here’s a cool coincidence that you’ll enjoy. On the final morning of 2018 and first mornings of 2019, look east, the direction of sunrise, before the sun comes up. The moon and three planets will be beautifully aligned across the early morning sky on December 31 and January 1, 2, 3, and 4. In their order from top to bottom, the three planets are Venus, Jupiter and Mercury. That also happens to be their order in brightness: then Venus, then Jupiter and finally Mercury.

Best New Year’s gift ever! EarthSky moon calendar for 2019

You can’t miss the moon, Venus and Jupiter, rising before dawn’s first light. Until the sun rises, they’re the three brightest objects in the sky.

Mercury is another story. It’s also bright enough to see with the eye, but it rises only shortly before sunrise now and so is seen only against a background of bright twilight. You’ll see Mercury only as darkness begins to give way to dawn. It’ll be low in the sky, toughest to spot. Use binoculars if you need to, to catch Mercury.

Here’s a chart for the final morning of 2018. Notice that the moon is located above the planets, poised to sweep past them as the year begins:

sky chart moon Venus Jupiter Mercury and star Antares

The moon and planets on December 31, the final morning of 2018. Look east, the direction of sunrise, before the sun comes up.

Can you find Mercury? Note that – on December 31 and January 1 – the lit side of the lunar crescent points down into the lineup of planets in the morning sky. Look for Mercury close to the horizon, along a line with the moon, Venus and Jupiter, with the unaided eye or binoculars.

Our sky chart is designed for mid-northern North American latitudes. But this chart will work for you, too, from other parts of the globe. At mid-northern latitudes in the world’s Eastern Hemisphere, the moon will appear offset a little with respect to the planets. Everything is moving, after all, with the moon moving in orbit around Earth and Earth itself spinning on its axis.

If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, the moon and planets will be aligned differently relative to your horizon. That is, a line between them will point downward from left to right, instead of downward from right to left as in the Northern Hemisphere.

Still, for all of us, these planets are visible in the east before sunup, with the moon moving past them! For all of us, Venus will appear highest, Jupiter next-highest, and Mercury closest to the horizon.

By the way, we received many beautiful photos earlier this month, as Jupiter was first coming into view in the morning sky. It swept past Mercury around December 21. See photos of the Jupiter-Mercury conjunction here. Now Mercury is heading back toward the sunrise, and Jupiter is ascending higher in the morning sky. It’ll have a wonderful conjunction with Venus in the coming month.

faint Jupiter and Mercury above dark hills

Matthew Chin in Hong Kong caught Mercury and Jupiter on December 22, 2018, when – from his location on the globe – they appeared side by side. Thanks, Matthew!

By the way, if you live at mid-northern latitudes, you’re now waking up to your latest sunrises of the year. Take advantage of the late sunrises to see the grand sky show in the coming mornings, as the moon slides past the planets Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury!

Bottom line: The last morning of 2018 and 1st mornings of 2019 will feature a dazzling line-up of the moon and 3 planets. Here are tips on how to see the moon sweep past Venus, Jupiter and Mercury. Great start to the New Year!

Deborah Byrd

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