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Moon and Jupiter close on December 1

Moon and Jupiter in star chart with green line showing the ecliptic. Jupiter above the moon.
You’ll find the moon and Jupiter hanging close together in the sky after sunset on December 1. They’ll pair up again before 2022 draws to a close. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

Moon and Jupiter bright Thursday night

Look for the waxing gibbous moon after sunset on Thursday, December 1, 2022. Also, the bright “star” near it is really a planet, the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. Other than the moon, Jupiter is the brightest object in the sky this month (although red Mars – now near its December 7 opposition is a close second).

Jupiter reached its opposition on September 26. In December 2022, the king of planets is up all evening and sets around midnight.

For the most precise view of what Jupiter and the moon will look like from your location, visit Stellarium.org.

Available now! 2023 EarthSky lunar calendar. A unique and beautiful poster-sized calendar showing phases of the moon every night of the year. Makes a great gift!

What’s that bright star by the moon?

We hear this question a lot. And, usually, the object near the moon isn’t a star at all, but a planet! That’s because the five bright planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) are as bright or brighter than the sky’s brightest stars. Plus, the planets and the moon all orbit the sun in the same flat plane. So they all follow the same path through our sky. That path is the ecliptic. It’s the same path the sun travels during the day, and it’s the plane of our solar system projected onto the sky.

As it orbits Earth, the moon makes one circuit around the ecliptic about once a month. So it passes the slower objects in the solar system about once a month. That’s why you can see Jupiter near the moon on December 1, and again on December 29 and 30. Then in January 2023, the moon and Jupiter will be close on January 25.

Generally speaking, you can trace the ecliptic path across the sky by thinking of the path of the sun throughout the year. The sun arcs sometimes higher in the sky (summer), and sometimes lower (winter). Likewise, the ecliptic shifts higher or lower depending on the time of night, and time of year. Also, the ecliptic passes through various constellations. These are the constellations of the zodiac.

In December 2022, Saturn lies to the west of Jupiter along the eclipse. Mars lies to the east of Jupiter. The moon passed Saturn recently, on the night of November 28. And the moon will pass Mars, on the night of Mars’ oposition, December 7. In fact, the moon won’t just pass Mars on that night. It’ll pass in front of Mars. Read about the December 7 occultation of Mars here.

December all night: Mars bright in Taurus

Mars, between the horns of Taurus on December 1, heads toward the Pleiades star cluster while following a very close and parallel path to the line of ecliptic.
In the evenings throughout December 2022, bright red Mars slides among the stars of the horns of Taurus the Bull heading toward the shimmering Pleiades star cluster. Mars is well placed for observing all night. By the way, Mars is closest to Earth for this 2-year period on November 30, 2022. It is 50.6 million miles (81.4 million km) away. Mars will continue to brighten until December 8, 2022, when it will reach its once-in-2-years opposition. Also, the nearby red star Aldebaran can guide you to a “V” shape star cluster known as the Hyades. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

Bottom line: On December 1, 2022, you’ll see a bright point of light close to the waxing gibbous moon. That’s Jupiter! The moon and Jupiter will pair up again at the end of the month.

For more great observing events in the coming weeks, visit EarthSky’s night sky guide

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