For most of this year we’ve watched Venus and its various assignations as the planet of love (or war, according to ancient Mayan beliefs) has gotten cozy with the moon, Jupiter, the Pleiades and even traversed the sun in its journey from evening to morning star.
Now it’s the moon’s turn, and when it comes to the moon, rings are involved. Early Monday morning on December 10—we’re talking just before dawn—the slenderest of waning crescent moons will gently illuminate the steadily glowing pinpoint of Saturn, the ringed planet, in the southeastern sky, according to Space.com.
Saturn will be above and to the left of the moon, tilted toward Earth at its steepest, most “open” angle since 2006, Space.com says. It affords a view worth getting to a telescope for, affording a spectacular view of its rings even in a small, 30-magnification telescope.
Saturn’s appearance, EarthSky.org pointed out, heralded the winter solstice in ancient Roman times. Celebrated from December 17 through 25, “the Saturnalia was marked by gift-giving and merrymaking, with candles casting out the winter darkness and evergreen wreaths serving as a reminder of the continuance of life,” the astronomy website EarthSky.org said. “It’s thought the modern day celebration of Christmas may have roots in this ancient Roman festival.”
Monday is the second day of “celestial hopscotch,” as described by Space.com. Early Sunday the moon was next to the sky’s brightest star, Spica. Bluish-colored Spica will also still be visible to the west of Saturn, about equally bright. As for the moon, after its meeting with Saturn, early Tuesday morning, Earth’s satellite will leave Saturn behind and once again rendezvous with its old pal, Venus itself. And then: Mercury.
“Watch as the waning crescent moon strolls down the stairway of morning planets over the next few mornings,” EarthSky.org said. “The moon pairs up with Saturn tomorrow, on Monday, December 10, and then with Venus on Tuesday, December 11. And depending on where you live worldwide, you might be able to spot the moon with Mercury on Wednesday, December 12.”
Talk about a Stairway to Heaven.