Jupiter, Saturn and Venus have lined up in the evening sky and will continue to be prominent features throughout most of December, but this week, the trio will get a visitor.
The easy-to-find planets, paired with the approaching peak of the Geminid meteor shower, make December a great month for evening stargazing. The only caveat is that the weather can be fickle during the long December nights, often offering frosty conditions on nights that are not cloudy.
This week in particular will provide a good opportunity to view the planetary alignment as the crescent moon will join the show, eventually falling in line with Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.
The moon started off the week next to Venus, and as the week progresses, it will continue to move up the chain, passing by Saturn and Jupiter. These close encounters will be great opportunities for photographers and stargazers with a telescope hoping to see a planet and the moon in the same field of view.
By Friday evening, the moon will be at the top of the line, appearing in the southwestern sky shortly after nightfall.
This celestial alignment will be visible around the world and even from cities where light pollution washes out dimmer stars. The only thing that is needed to enjoy the show is cloud-free weather, but using a telescope or pair of binoculars can reveal some of the bigger moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Unfortunately, clouds are a concern for large areas of the central and eastern United States on Friday evening due to a far-reaching storm that will extend from the Rockies to the Appalachians.
Folks stepping outside to see the celestial alignment should also keep their eyes peeled for a few shooting stars.
The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of Monday into Tuesday, but some meteors will streak through the sky in the nights leading up to the shower's culmination. It is also one of the only annual meteor showers that is active all night long with some meteors appearing as early as nightfall.
However, unlike the planetary alignment, the Geminids cannot be easily viewed in an area where there is human-created light pollution, so people are encouraged to take a trip to a darker area to enjoy the astronomical light show.