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Find December 2013 visible planets and bright stars the easy way

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Think you can’t find planets, identify bright stars, or find constellations you may want to give this a try. No star maps, you just need to find the Moon. The best times to look are 30 minutes after sunset or when the Moon in is the morning sky about an hour before sunrise.

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This month the Moon will pass by the planets Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn. The bright stars to see are Aldebaran, Castor, Pollux, Betelgeuse, Procyon, Capella, Antares, Regulus, Spica, Arcturus, Deneb, Altair, Vega, and Formalhaut. This month we say good bye to constellation Sagittarius in the evening sky and welcome Libra, and Scorpius in the morning sky at month’s end.

This is set up for Aurora, Colorado (Mountain Time). Things will be slightly different depending on your location, but close enough for finding the planets and bright stars easily.

Start observing 60 minutes before sunrise

On December 1 a very thin crescent moon is in the constellation Libra the scales along with the planets Saturn (above the Moon) and Mercury (below the Moon). If visible, Comet ISON will be left of the group. Best time to view is 6:15am.

On December 2 the Moon is new rising and setting with the Sun. The Moon has moved to the evening side of the Sun and will be difficult to see in the glare of the setting Sun for the next few days.

Start observing 30 minutes after sunset

On December 4-5 a thin crescent moon and a very bright Venus are in the constellation Sagittarius the archer. Venus is to the upper left of the Moon on December 4 and next to the Moon on December 5. To the upper right of the Moon are three bright stars that form a large triangle called the Summer Triangle. The three stars are Altair (lowest) in the constellation Aqulia the eagle and Vega (high and right) in the constellation Lyra the harp and Deneb (above Vega) in the constellation Cygnus the swan. Deneb is the dimmest of the three, but also the farthest away at 1700 light years. It burns 196,000 times brighter than the Sun.

On December 6-7 the Moon is in the constellation Capricornus, the goat. There are no noticeably bright stars in Capricornus.

On December 8 the Moon is in the constellation Aquarius the water bearer. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Aquarius. The star below and left of the Moon is Formalhaut in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish.

On December 9-11 the Moon is in the constellation Pisces the fishes. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Pisces. On December 9 the Moon is at first quarter or a half moon. When the Moon is at first quarter it is approximately in same place in space as the Earth and you were 3.5 hours ago.

On December 12-13 the Moon is in the constellation Aries the ram. There are no bright stars in Aries.

On December 14-16 the Moon is in the constellation Taurus the bull. On December 14 the Moon is above the bright star Aldebaran. Slightly above and to the left of the Moon is a small group of stars called the Pleiades or seven sisters which is absolutely marvelous in binoculars. To the left of the Moon and Pleiades is the bright star Capella, the goat star, in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer. On December 15 the Moon will be very close the Aldebaran.

On December 17 the Moon moves to the constellation Gemini the twins. The Moon is also full. The full moon marks the Moon’s transition from the evening sky to the morning sky. For more detailed information about this month’s full moon including names go here. Jupiter will be below and left of the Moon two hours after sunset.

Start observing 60 minutes before sunrise

On December 18-19 the Moon is still in Gemini. The bright star above the Moon is Jupiter. The two somewhat bright stars above Jupiter are Pollux (left) and Castor (right) the Gemini twins. On December 19 the Moon moves between Jupiter (right) and the star Procyon in Canis Minor the little dog. The bright star to the right of Jupiter is Capella.

On December 20-21 the Moon is in Cancer, the crab. There are no noticeably bright stars in Cancer. The bright star Procyon is below the Moon.

On December 22-24 the Moon is in Leo the lion with its bright star Regulus. On December 22 the Moon is below Regulus and will move to the left of Regulus in the next two days.

On December 25-27 the Moon is in the constellation Virgo the virgin. On December 25 the Moon is at third (or last) quarter. At this phase the Moon is approximately in the same place in space the Earth and you will be in 3.5 hours. Note how the Moon will thin and plunge toward the rising Sun in the next six days. Above and left of the Moon is Mars.

On December 26 the Moon moves between Mars (upper right) and Spica (lower left) the brightest star in Virgo.

On December 28-29 the Moon returns to the constellation Libra the scales where we started the month. On December 28 Saturn is to the left of the Moon. On December 29 the Moon moves between Saturn (upper right) and the star Antares (lower left) in Scorpius the scorpion.

On December 30-31 the Moon is lost to the glare of the rising Sun.

Wishing you clear skies