Look out for a lunar tour of the planets that begins 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 will pass each of the five visible planets.

When the sky gets dark for the day, the old waxing crescent moon on your outstretched arm will be about two fingers from the sun’s first two planets. With only about 2% of the moon’s surface illuminated, it will be a challenge to see. The bright object on the right is Venus, with tiny Mercury directly overhead, currently 50% illuminated.

On Christmas night, the moon moves between Venus and Saturn and will stand next to the ringed planet on Monday evening. The tour resumes Tuesday evening when the Moon, now 25% illuminated, bisects the gap between Saturn and Jupiter. On Wednesday night, the Moon, now 35% illuminated, will be just a few degrees to the left of Jupiter.

New study reveals seasonal weather changes on Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission captured this view of Jupiter's southern hemisphere during the spacecraft's 39th flyby of the planet on January 12, 2022.  Zooming in on the right part of the image (Figure B), two other worlds become visible in the same image: Jupiter's fascinating world moons Io (left) and Europa (right) (NASA/JPL)

Scientists have 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 1970’s that the color of bands in Jupiter’s troposphere reveal temperatures. White bands are cooler, reddish to brown bands indicate warmer temperatures. Decades of data from these missions combined with ground observations yielded some surprising results.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, shows a pattern of rise and fall in temperatures that resembles the 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 kilometers apart.

“It’s similar to a phenomenon we see on Earth, where weather and climate patterns in one region can have a noticeable impact on the weather in another region, with patterns of variability appearing to be ‘teleconnected’ over large 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 create more long-range forecasts of Jupiter’s weather that could help inform climate change research here on Earth.



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