May 17, 2022: Four bright morning planets – Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn – are in the eastern sky. Venus’ veil of clouds hides its surface. Farther westward, the moon is near Antares.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:29 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:06 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The bright moon is in the southwest before sunrise, 3.6° to the upper left of Antares, the heart of Scorpius.
Farther eastward, four bright planet gems are strung above the eastern horizon. The brightest is Venus. During morning twilight, it is over 8° above the east horizon.
When Venus is visible in the eastern morning sky it is known as the “Morning Star,” and “Evening Star” in the western sky after sunset.
The planet is nearly the same size as Earth and part of a group of planets known as terrestrial planets, for they are small and rocky, different from the very large gaseous worlds.
The planet revolves around the sun in 224 days and passes between Earth and the sun every 584 days. A day on Venus is 243 earth-days long and the planet spins backwards compared to Earth.
As the planet revolves around the sun, it shows phases similar to lunar phases, although they do not occur in the same sequence as the moon. So as not to confuse the two-phase cycles, Venusian phases are often attached to morning or evening, such as a morning crescent or evening gibbous when it is seen at those times.
Venusian phases demonstrate that the planets revolve around the sun rather than a stationary Earth. The thick gibbous phases and full phase is only visible for a planet revolving around the sun. Those phases are displayed through a telescope later this year when Venus is near its superior conjunction.
Thick clouds and atmosphere wrap around the planet and prevent earthbound sky watchers from seeing the surface. The air is mostly carbon dioxide and clouds contain sulfuric acid.
These atmospheric components create a runaway greenhouse effect on the planet’s surface that create planet-wide temperatures at nearly 900° F. Studying the greenhouse effect on Venus helps us understand the perils of too much carbon dioxide and sulfur compounds in our air.
A little greenhouse effect is a good thing, too much and you get Venus. With no greenhouse, you get Mars. Atmospheric gases, such as carbon dioxide, sulfur compounds, and water trap heat and stop the day’s surface heating from escaping into space at night.
Those who live at mid-northern latitudes know the effect of winter snow cover coupled with clear nights. During the day, the snow insulates the ground from absorbing heat. The clear night allows the sparse warming to gush into space. These are the coldest nights of the year, several degrees colder than a winter’s night with cloud cover. The clouds keep in the sparse winter’s heat.
Photo Caption – Click the image above to spin Venus to see its surface features.
Venus has too many greenhouse gases that create a planet that is hotter than an oven. Mars has little atmosphere with warming gases. The Red Planet is mostly frozen with today’s water frozen in the ground. Earth’s greenhouse, in comparison, is just right. Scientists are concerned that gases added into the atmosphere raise the overall temperatures too much so that polar caps melt and the weather changes, perhaps to the extent that coastal cities flood and current farming regions no longer sustain themselves.
During the 1990s, Magellan, a robot spacecraft, used radar to map the surface. It found large features that are continental size with volcanoes and mountains, lava channels, and pancake-shape domes.
Earlier this year, the Parker Solar Probe was able to capture outlines of surface features through the Venusian atmosphere on the night side of Venus that match Magellan’s radar map.
This morning bright Jupiter is 15.7° to the upper right of Venus and Mars is 6.6° beyond the Jovian Giant.
Venus is stepping away from Jupiter and a close conjunction last month. At month’s end marching Mars catches and passes the Jovian Giant.
The fourth morning gem is Saturn, 23.3° to the upper right of Mars and over 20° up in the southeast.
Mercury is moving toward the morning sky. It is nearing its inferior conjunction with the sun.
January 2, 2023: Bright winter stars are in the western sky before sunrise. After sundown, four planets, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, along with the moon are visible.Keep reading
January 1, 2023: The Scorpion crawls into the southeastern sky before sunrise. After sunset, four bright planets and gibbous moon are along an arc across the sky.Keep reading
December 31, 2022: Mercury begins to depart the evening sky, leaving four bright planets – Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars on display for New Year’s Eve.Keep reading