Look up for a lunar tour of the planets beginning Christmas Eve

Look up for a lunar tour of the planets beginning Christmas Eve

The weekend’s cold temperatures also brought clear skies that will make sky watching a bit easier. Beginning Christmas Eve through the first week of the new year, the Moon will pass each of the five visible planets.

As the sky is getting dark for the day, the old waxing crescent Moon will be separated by about the width of two fingers on your outstretched arm from the first two planets from the Sun. With only about 2% of the Moon’s face illuminated, it will be a challenge to see. The bright object to the right is Venus, just above is tiny Mercury, currently lit 50%.

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

New study shows season-like weather changes on Jupiter

Scientists recently completed decades of study of the clouds that make up the colorful bands and continuous storms that make up Jupiter’s great eye. We’ve known since the Pioneer missions in the 70s that the color of the bands in Jupiter’s troposphere reveal the temperatures. White bands are cooler, reddish to brown bands indicate warmer temperatures. Decades of data from those missions along with ground observations produced some surprising results.

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

“It’s similar to a phenomenon we see on Earth, where weather and climate patterns in one region can have a noticeable influence on weather elsewhere, with the patterns of variability seemingly ‘teleconnected’ across vast distances through the atmosphere,” said Glenn 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 do more long range forecasting of weather on Jupiter, which could help inform climate change research back here on Earth.



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