December 2023: What Planet is Next to the Moon?
In December 2023, the Moon meets Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars in the sky. Learn what planet is closest to the Moon from this article.
- What is the dot next to the Moon tonight?
- What do astronomers call the approach of the Moon to the planet?
- December events
- Bottom line
What is the dot next to the Moon tonight?
From December 4 to 10, the Moon will visit the constellations Leo, Virgo, and Libra. This week, the planet Venus (mag -4.2) will be the brightest dot near the Moon. The most prominent stars near our natural satellite will be Regulus (mag 1.4) from Leo and Spica (mag 1.0) from Virgo. As the New Moon occurs next week (on December 12), the lunar crescent will get thinner each day. To make sure what celestial object you’re looking at, use the Sky Tonight app. Now let's take a closer look at the planets near the Moon this month.
What do astronomers call the approach of the Moon to the planet?
In this article, you'll come across several types of celestial events. They all involve the relative positions of the Moon and celestial objects and occur close together in time. However, they differ in detail. Here is what each one means.
Closest approach (appulse)
Closest approach or appulse happens when two celestial objects have the smallest apparent distance as seen from the Earth. For the Moon and planets, appulse often takes place close to conjunction.
Conjunction occurs when two celestial objects have the same apparent right ascension or ecliptic longitude in the sky. In everyday language, the terms “conjunction” and “closest approach” are often used interchangeably. However, conjunction has a more technical meaning and does not necessarily occur with every appulse.
Moon-planet conjunctions occur frequently. Once every 27.3 days, our natural satellite passes through a narrow part of the sky centered on the ecliptic and encounters planets. Planetary conjunctions are less frequent; you can learn more about them in our separate article.
Occultation takes place when a celestial body with a greater apparent diameter passes in front of a body with a smaller apparent diameter; for example, when the Moon passes in front of a star or planet. The occultation of the Sun by the Moon is called a solar eclipse. Each lunar occultation is only visible from some parts of the Earth. That's because the exact position of the Moon in the sky varies by up to 2° at different locations.
How to spot planets next to the Moon?
Here are some things to keep in mind for successful observations.
You may miss the exact time of conjunction or closest approach, but don't worry! Even before or after the exact moment of the event, the objects will stay relatively close together, and that's just as worth observing.
Depending on the angular distance between the objects, some events should be seen with a telescope and some with binoculars. In general, a good 10×50 binocular will give you a 6-7° field of view; for telescopes, this figure varies — it could be less than 1°. You can calculate the field of view of your optics yourself. And, of course, you can also observe an event with the naked eye.
When the Moon is close to its full phase, it outshines fainter objects. For example, you won't be able to see Mercury near a Full Moon because the planet isn't prominent enough. Only the brightest objects, such as Venus or Jupiter, can be seen.
A bright object near the Moon can be a star or a planet. You can tell the difference by checking if the object twinkles. If it does, then it’s a star; if not, it’s a planet. Also, Jupiter and Venus (sometimes Mars and Saturn, too) are way brighter than most stars. You can tell the planets apart by their colors:
- Mercury is gray or brownish;
- Venus is pale yellow;
- Mars is pale pink or bright red;
- Jupiter is orange;
- Saturn is gold.
- To identify an object or find out when objects are closest together for your exact location, use the free stargazing tools — Sky Tonight or Star Walk 2.
Sky Tonight app
To identify an object in the sky with the help of Sky Tonight, follow these steps:
Step 1. Open Sky Tonight and point your device at the sky or tap the big blue button. A live representation of what you see in the sky will appear on the screen, and the app will start to follow your movements.
Step 2. Point your device at the part of the sky where the object is located. For convenience, you can limit the visual magnitude so that only those objects that can be seen with the naked eye appear on the screen. To do this, tap the panel at the bottom of the screen and drag the top slider to the left, closer to the eye icon. From this panel, you can also turn on the night mode, change the constellation appearance, and more.
Step 3. Now you can identify the bright object and get information about it by tapping on its name.
You can also watch our detailed video tutorial.
Star Walk 2 app
To identify an object in the sky with the help of Star Walk 2, follow these steps:
Step 1. Open Star Walk 2 and point your device at the sky or tap the compass icon in the top left corner of the screen. A live representation of what you see in the sky will appear on the screen, and the app will start to follow your movements.
Step 2. Point your device at the part of the sky where the object is located. For convenience, drag the slider on the left down until only the objects you can see in the sky remain on the screen.
Step 3. Now you can identify the bright object and get information about it by tapping on its name at the bottom of the screen.
How to photograph the Moon with planets?
You can take a picture of a planet near the Moon with a professional camera or even a smartphone. Here are some tips to help you:
Check the weather forecast. Open the Sky Tonight app and tap the telescope icon at the bottom. You'll see two tabs — Stargazing Index and Weather. Select the latter and find the date with cloudless weather, so clouds don't interfere with your night of astrophotography.
Find out when objects are well-placed for your location. In Sky Tonight, tap the magnifier icon at the bottom. Enter the name of the object you're interested in and tap the target icon next to the corresponding search result. When the app shows you the object's location, use the panel at the top to scroll through time and determine the best time to take the picture.
Set up a frame. Determine the apparent distance between the Moon and the planet and find their altitude using Sky Tonight. Next, define a rectangle large enough to fit everything you want in the frame, but leave yourself some room. Then use a field of view calculator to find the right lens size for the coverage.
Bring something else into the shot. Depending on your surroundings, it could be a tree or a small house. Here is an example of how a target in the foreground improves a shot. Use the AR mode in Sky Tonight to superimpose the image of the night sky on your background. Tap the big blue button on the main screen for this.
Use a tripod. It will help your camera to stay still and take several pictures from the same angle.
December 9: Moon near Venus
- Close approach time: 14:24 GMT (9:24 a.m. EST)
- Close approach distance: 3°19'
- Conjunction time: 16:53 GMT (11:53 a.m. EST)
- Conjunction distance: 3°54'
On December 9, Venus (mag -4.2) will be shining next to the 12%-illuminated Moon. You will see the bright planet next to the thin lunar crescent early in the morning, before sunrise, in the constellation Virgo. No optics are necessary, although a pair of binoculars might be a good idea for a closer look at the duo.
December 12: Moon near Mars
- Close approach time: 10:06 GMT (5:06 a.m. EST)
- Close approach distance: 3°31'
On December 12, the New Moon will meet Mars (mag 1.4) in the constellation Ophiuchus. Both celestial bodies will be over the horizon during the daytime. Therefore, the close approach will be unobservable. Avoid observing any sky objects while they are close to the Sun: it may result in permanent blindness.
December 14: Moon near Mercury
- Conjunction time: 05:47 GMT (0:47 a.m. EST)
- Conjunction distance: 4°22'
On December 14, the 5%-illuminated Moon will meet Mercury (mag 0.8) in the constellation Sagittarius. The lunar disc will be almost invisible, and the planet will set one hour after the Sun, so you won't have much time to find it in the evening sky.
December 17: Moon near Saturn
- Conjunction time: 21:58 GMT (4:58 p.m. EST)
- Conjunction distance: 2°30'
- Close approach time: 23:32 GMT (6:32 p.m. EST)
- Close approach distance: 2°16'
On December 17, the 30%-illuminated Moon will come close to Saturn (mag 0.9). They will be visible in the dark evening sky in the constellation Aquarius. Both celestial bodies will be bright enough to be observed with the naked eye.
December 19: Moon near Neptune
- Close approach time: 14:07 GMT (9:07 a.m. EST)
- Close approach distance: 1°07'
On December 19, stargazers from western Australia will see a rare event called lunar occultation: the 45%-illuminated Moon will pass in front of the dim planet Neptune (mag 7.9), which is impossible to observe without binoculars or a telescope. The rest of the world will see the two celestial bodies next to each other; the apparent distance between them will be 1°07'.
December 22: Moon near Jupiter
- Close approach time: 12:53 GMT (7:53 a.m. EST)
- Close approach distance: 2°23'
- Conjunction time: 14:20 GMT (9:20 a.m. EST)
- Conjunction distance: 2°42'
On December 22, the 79%-illuminated Moon will meet Jupiter (mag -2.7) in the constellation Aries. The duo will be in the sky all night; by 8 p.m. local time, they will be the highest in the sky. Both objects will shine bright and be clearly visible without any optics.
Now you know what those bright dots near the Moon are. To view the planets and stars near our natural satellite, choose a cloudless night and use Star Walk 2 or Sky Tonight to learn when the celestial objects are best placed for your location. For a visual explanation, watch our recently released video on how to identify bright objects near the Moon using the Sky Tonight app, step by step.
Learn about past conjunctions with the Moon and planets that took place in 2022 in our separate article. Also, see our dedicated article to learn when the Moon passed near the planets in 2023.
Wishing you clear skies and happy observations!