Venus passes close to Mars early this December, and it is in the company of Mercury late in the month. Jupiter, high in the southeast to south as the sky brightens, will be our second brightest morning light. Clouds prevented me from seeing the daytime occultation of Jupiter in November, but another chance comes this month and in a dark sky.

Dec. 5 and 6: Venus will be less than the width of your finger (with your arm straight out) from a much dimmer Mars at about 6 a.m. (All times are given for the Lewiston-Auburn area.) Look for them in the southeast, with Mars to the lower right of Venus.

Dec. 7: The most spectacular event of the month will be when Jupiter is hidden behind the moon for about an hour this morning. This very bright planet will disappear behind the bright side of the moon at 4:01 a.m., and it will reappear from behind the moon’s dark side at 5:07.

Dec. 9: A slender crescent moon will shine above and right of Venus on the 9th, with Mars between them.

Dec. 13: The Geminid meteor shower will reach its peak tonight. Usually, you see the most meteors in any shower after midnight, but if the sky is clear, I would start looking about 10 p.m. in this case (warmly dressed).

Dec. 21: Winter officially begins at 7:42 a.m. This is the time of our winter solstice, when the sun is most southerly and low in our sky.

Dec. 25: If you are up early to see what’s been left under the tree, take a minute to enjoy the close appearance of Venus and Mercury, low in the southeast. Mercury will be just one finger left of brilliant Venus, with the best viewing between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

Last week of December: This will be a good time to view all five of the naked-eye planets at dawn. In addition to the Venus and Mercury combo, Mars will be one hand to their upper right, Jupiter will be high in the south and Saturn will be fairly high in the west. Look for them between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

Dec. 26: Tonight’s full moon will be the closest one to the solstice, so it will be the most northerly and highest full moon of the year.

Dec. 27: Saturn and the moon will be well up in the east about 8 p.m., with Saturn half a hand below and right of the moon. Pollux, the brightest star of Gemini, will be just left of the moon.

Venus and Mercury will appear nearest each other during the last three days of the year, with Mercury only half a finger above Venus. They will be low in the southeast and best between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

Most of our planet watching has to be done at dawn again this month. It is also the time of the solstice, with long nights to enjoy the bright stars of winter. And unlike some wimpy folks, with the start of winter, the sun begins moving north.

Roger Ptak is professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and author of the popular astronomy book “Sky Stories.” He and his wife now live in Northport. His e-mail address is dptak//fermi.bgsu.edu/~ptak/star/star.html.


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