Early nightfall and late sunup beckon to stargazers before days lengthen
The last of the longest nights of the year are bookended by planet Venus taking final bows in early morning twilight in the southeast and planets Jupiter and Saturn poised at the edge of the southwest skyline in afternoon dusk. The latest sunrises of the year – 7:20am through January 10 – and early sunsets, around 4:40pm, motivate this stargazer to greet starry skies, mostly in short jaunts or from a window or balcony, during morning darkness and half-light, 6am to 6:50am, and in the afternoon from just after 5pm – 5:40.
Observing times suggested in the illustrations are for unobstructed views to the horizon. Begin viewing in twilight less than half hour after sunset. Even when skies are hazy, I have found that binoculars (mine are 10×42) bring the planets into view.
Since the great conjunction of the 21st, Saturn, 0.61 magnitude, has moved passed brighter Jupiter, -1.94m, and the space between the two is widening. On the 21st, Saturn set 11 seconds after Jupiter. Today, January 4, Saturn sets at 6:04:45pm; Jupiter follows 8 minutes later, setting at 6:12:39pm. Mercury may be too close to the horizon for successful viewing without binoculars.
Following nearly 15 hours of darkness, the morning star, brilliant planet Venus, -3.92 magnitude (the lower the number the brighter the celestial body), is easily spotted in the southeast from about 6:15am until nearly 7am, although the planet dims as twilight brightens. Venus rises at 6:01am tomorrow morning.
After catching the planetary trio in the west at dusk, get up early to enjoy the waning crescent moon and dazzling planet Venus in the east before sunrise. Read more.
After Jupiter and Saturn set, burnished gold Mars (-0.31m tonight, the 4th) comes into view rather high in the southeast. By the 10th, Mars’ magnitude dips to 0.00.
Wander the heavens, eyes to the sky, immersed in the dark mornings and nights with unique appreciation. Catch Venus, Jupiter and Saturn before they fall into the Sun’s glare. High riding Mars is slowly losing magnitude.