Look up for a moon tour of the planets starting on Christmas Eve

Look up for a moon tour of the planets starting on Christmas Eve

Look up for a moon tour of the planets starting on Christmas Eve

The weekend’s cold temperatures also brought clear skies that will make sky-watching a little easier. From Christmas Eve through the first week of the new year, the moon passes each of the five visible planets.

As the sky darkens for the day, the old waxing crescent moon will be about the width of two fingers on your outstretched arm from the sun’s first two planets. With only about 2% of the moon’s face lit up, it will be challenging to see. The bright object on the right is Venus, just above it is tiny Mercury, currently 50% illuminated.

By Christmas night, the moon will move between Venus and Saturn and line up with the ringed planet on Monday night. The tour continues Tuesday evening as the now 25% illuminated moon splits the rift between Saturn and Jupiter. Wednesday evening, the now 35% illuminated Moon will be just a few degrees to the left of Jupiter.

New study shows seasonal weather changes on Jupiter

Look up for a moon tour of the planets starting on Christmas Eve

Scientists have recently spent decades studying the clouds that make up the colorful bands and continuous storms that make up Jupiter’s large eye. We’ve known since the Pioneer missions in the 1970s that the color of the bands in Jupiter’s troposphere betrays temperatures. White bands are cooler, reddish to brown bands indicate warmer temperatures. Decades of data from those missions along with ground observations yielded some surprising results.

Published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, the study reveals a pattern in the rise and fall of temperatures similar to seasons. But Jupiter isn’t very tilted on its axis (only 3 degrees), so it doesn’t experience seasons like Earth does (23.5 degrees). Scientists also found surprising similarities in temperature changes thousands of miles apart.

“It’s similar to a phenomenon we’re seeing on Earth, where weather and climate patterns in one region can have a noticeable impact on weather elsewhere, with the variability patterns seemingly ‘teleconnected’ over great distances through the atmosphere,” Glenn said. Orton, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the study.

Planetary weather researchers plan to use the data to make more long-term forecasts of Jupiter’s weather, which could help climate change research here on Earth.

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