A great way to prepare for 2012 is to try to see all five naked-eye planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Start off tonight by looking west after sunset at 5:27 to see ever-brilliant Venus in the darkening twilight.
By 6, very bright Jupiter will be high in the east about 60 degrees above the horizon.
After you have enjoyed Jupiter, be sure to watch Orion the Hunter rising above the eastern horizon. Orion will have risen fully by 6:30.
Also at that time, the bright, five-day-old crescent moon tonight will be high above the southern horizon.
By 8 p.m., Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, will be 7 degrees above the southeastern horizon, getting higher and higher as the night goes on.
Sirius in Canis Major, the Greater Dog, is one of our traditional winter evening companions, along with Orion and its bright stars.
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We are by no means done yet.
Mars rises at 10:57 p.m. and will be well-placed for viewing high in the sky a couple of hours before sunrise (7:24 a.m.) on Friday. Saturn rises at 1:57 a.m., and Jupiter sets at 2:14 Friday morning.
Thus, there is a short period of time from 1:57 until 2:14 when it is possible to see Saturn very low on the eastern horizon and Jupiter very low on the western horizon - nearly 180 degrees apart.
This will be challenging as the sky has to be clear, and you must have an unobstructed view of both horizons, but it is doable as both planets are bright enough to be visible low in the sky.
To finish up with a bang, look to the southeast from 6:45 a.m. until sunrise to see ever-fleeting Mercury make an appearance.
Best wishes to you and yours for 2012.
Contact Tim Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org