Planets for Christmas 2017

Look south-east before sunrise on Christmas Day for a view of three of the five naked eye planets. Mercury appears at the horizon close to 7 am. Mercury is the planet whose orbit brings it closest to the Sun and on December 25 it will be closest to the Sun from our point of view as we look at the sky. The later you can wait after 7 am, the higher Mercury will rise, but the brighter the sky will become as the Sun starts light up the south-eastern horizon.

Jupiter is beautifully bright, and higher above the horizon, with fainter and redder Mars above and to the right of Jupiter. Completing the view is bright Spica – higher still and further right than Mars. These brighter objects will be visible later than Mercury, so try to look out by 7.45 am for Mercury, with Jupiter still visible after 8 am. Sunrise is at 8.40 am, so feel free to head back to bed then!

Mercury will be at greatest western elongation on January 1, 2018, so enjoy the opportunity to see this elusive tricksy planet during the (hopefully) clear fresh mornings between Christmas and New Years’. I’m not sure if I’ll be waking early especially for Mercury – in 35 years of trying I’ve only managed to see it 12 times!

Image from Stellarium, downloadable from http://stellarium.org/

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