Get ready to bust out your telescopes, astronomy nerds, for a parade of planets is preparing to dazzle night sky enthusiasts and backyard astronomers throughout the month of December. Venus will be poised to steal the show tonight, soaring overhead, like a glittering jewel in the night sky. The real treat comes after dusk, when our closest planetary neighbor will huddle up close to the moon, posing for what is sure to be an epic photo opp. Be on the lookout for the celestial duo to appear in the western sky, just after sunset.

Two other planets — Mars and Mercury — will also be visible in the night sky; however, Mercury will be below the moon and Venus, making it harder to spot. From its position, above Venus, Mars will be fairly easy to spot at mid-northern latitudes until around 10 p.m. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, Mars stays out until very late evening.

If you look closely you can see all of our solar systems inner planets doting the night sky this month.
If you look closely you can see all of our solar systems inner planets doting the night sky this month. 

Venus is unmistakable this month as it brightens slightly from magnitude -4.2 to -4.3. This change in brightness occurs as its disk swells, increasing as much as 23 percent in size.

Although you don’t need a telescope to see Venus in the sky tonight, you will need one if you want to make out the planet’s phases.

In early December, skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes, can find Venus in the night sky just 19 degrees above the horizon half an hour after sunset. The planet will continue to trek northward as it moves along the zodiac through the month of December.

The best opportunity to view Venus will be just after sunset tonight, (December 3). First, look for the thin, silvery crescent of our planet’s moon. Roughly seven degrees below the moon, you will find Venus — shining like the crowning jewel of the night sky.

Photos via Chandra, NASA