See 5 planets, other celestial marvels in Chicago this month | Popgen Tech
While doing last-minute holiday shopping or enjoying the outdoor light displays this week, take a moment to look up at the sky to witness a series of potentially breathtaking celestial events at the end of December .
Five planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — are expected to be visible at the same time briefly during the night from Friday to New Year’s Eve.
“You’ll see all five visible planets and the moon will be there as well, kind of going on a tour that whole week,” said Michelle Nichols, director of public observation at the Adler Planetarium.
These are the five brightest planets, often called the “naked eye planets” because they are easily visible without a telescope or binoculars under the right conditions. Nichols added that technically Uranus can be seen without the aid of technology but only under very dark skies, and even then it’s pretty dark. Viewing Neptune always requires binoculars or a telescope.
To see all five planets at once, Nichols suggests going outside around 5 p.m., about half an hour after sunset. Mercury and Venus are in the southwest and Saturn is above and to the left of Mercury and Venus. Jupiter is above and to the left of Saturn, with Mars to the east.
“Mars will be orange,” he said. “That will stand out in its color. Jupiter will be really bright. Venus will be even brighter. You will be able to see all five for about half an hour.
Saturn, Jupiter and Mars will probably stay longer than Mercury and Venus, which will be low, in the southwest.
“We’ll beat those first,” Nichols said. “But the other three will stay awake for a decent part of the night.”
While no specific viewing location is required, he recommends an area with little light pollution and few tall buildings or tall trees.
The simultaneous appearance of all the bare planets is “unusual but it’s also not a once-in-10,000-year kind of thing,” Nichols said.
In June, the five planets were seen in alignment in orbital order from the sun, a rare event that won’t happen again until 2040.
Around Christmas Eve, stargazers who stay awake can also witness the annual Ursid meteor shower, which peaks on Wednesday, which is the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.
Nichols said stepping out, facing northeast and looking up. The viewing gets better “closer to midnight” and is best after midnight, he said.
Meteors usually come from comets, which are usually chunks of dusty ice left over from the formation of the solar system billions of years ago, Nichols said.
“Think of them as dusty, dirty icebergs,” he says. “When they get close to the sun, the sun heats them up and some of the material from the comet — pieces of ice, dust what have you — comes out of the comet.”
A meteor shower occurs “when the Earth passes through a region with a large concentration of debris, such as particles left by a comet,” according to the New York-based nonprofit American Meteor Society.
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When debris burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, it looks like dazzling streaks of light in the sky.
Nichols said Ursid refers to the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, because meteor showers are usually named for the constellation in the sky where they appear to shine.
Another annual celestial event to see is the winged-horse constellation Pegasus, visible throughout December. The main part of the constellation is four stars in the shape of a square, which form the central part of the horse’s body, Nichols said.
“Looking high in the southwestern sky on December nights, you’ll find a constellation named for one of the more amazing beasts of ancient mythology,” says NASA’s website. “That’s Pegasus, the winged horse. In Greek mythology, Pegasus goes on an adventure with the hero Belaraphon, and eventually carries the thunderbolts of Zeus himself, who repays him by placing him among the stars.
Pegasus is the seventh largest of the 88 constellations, according to NASA.
“As this year draws to a close, here’s hoping you find the winged horse Pegasus, as you wonder what new adventures await in the coming year,” the agency’s website added.