July 8, 2022: The four bright morning planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – stretch across the morning sky before daybreak. After sundown, the bright gibbous moon is near the scorpion’s pincers.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:24 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:28 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This morning, start the planet search with bright Jupiter. At one hour before sunrise, the Jovian Giant is nearly halfway up in the sky in the southeast. It is beginning to slow down its eastward motion with Cetus before it starts retrograding on July 29. Jupiter is at opposition on September 26, when Earth passes between the planet and the sun.
Jupiter rises over five hours before sunrise. For those with telescopes, the Great Red Spot – a long-term “storm” in the planet’s southern hemisphere – is visible in the south-central region of the planet at 3:56 a.m. CDT. The spot enters our view about 50 minutes before the best time and departs around the fast-rotating planet about 50 minutes after the optimal view. Even though the spot may not be at its best, looking for it beginning about 3:10 a.m. CDT is better than looking later in the brightening twilight.
Dimmer Mars, over 24° to the lower left of Jupiter, is marching eastward in Pisces, near the Aries border. The Red Planet moves into that constellation tomorrow.
Mars is moving toward the Pleiades star cluster, about 29° to the Red Planet’s lower left. Mars moves into Taurus and passes the stellar bunch next month.
Saturn, nearly 45° from Jupiter and 30° up in the south, is retrograding in eastern Capricornus, near the star Deneb Algedi. Our world is quickly catching Saturn and passes between it and the sun on August 14.
Saturn rises in the east-southeast before midnight, about two hours after sunset. It appears in the eastern sky earlier each week. By late August, after opposition, the Ringed Wonder is low in the eastern sky as night falls.
Do not confuse Saturn with Fomalhaut, the bright star to the lower left of the planet.
Brilliant Venus is over 9° up in the east-northeast, likely behind trees or other neighborhood obstructions. It continues stepping eastward in Taurus, 9.3° to the lower left of Aldebaran and 7.9° to the lower right of Elnath – the Bull’s northern horn. Venus passes Elnath in five mornings.
Do not confuse Venus with Capella, the bright star that is nearly 25° above the northeast horizon and over 24° to the upper left of the planet. Note that the Pleiades is to the right of the bright star and at about the same height above the horizon.
The Venus – Saturn gap continues to widen each morning. This morning it is 114°. Later next month, the gap reaches 180° and Venus rises as Saturn sets. After the Venus – Saturn opposition, only three planets are visible simultaneously. Jupiter and Mars are constant in this bundle. Either Venus or Saturn are in the sky with them.
Mercury continues to move toward super conjunction on the far side of the sun on July 16. Afterwards, the planet moves into the evening sky for a very unfavorable appearance, setting early during twilight.
The bright gibbous moon, 72% illuminated, is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest. It is 3.2° to the right of Zubenelgenubi – meaning “the southern claw.” The star may be difficult to see from the bright moonlight. Hold up your hand to block the moon’s glare as you would with the sun. The northern claw, Zubeneschamali, is to the upper left of the southern claw.
On today’s celestial maps, the stars are part of Libra. The names of the stars indicate they were once part of Scorpius, the constellation to the east. The scorpion is crawling across the south-southeastern horizon, extending its pincers into the south-southwest.
Zubenelgenubi is about 75 light years away, shining with a brightness of about 40 suns. The star is a double star. The second star is easily visible through a binocular or spotting scope.
The brighter star, also known as Alpha Librae 1, in the pair is a spectroscopic binary. A second star cannot be seen, but its gravitational embrace is indicated by a repetitive change in the visible star’s spectrum, indicating a dance of two stars around a common gravitational center.
The second star that is visible through a telescope is known as Alpha Librae 2. It revolves around Alpha Librae1 at a distance of over 4,000 times the Earth – sun distance.
February 28, 2023: One night before their close conjunction, Venus approaches Jupiter in the west-southwest after sundown. The moon is near the horns of Taurus with Mars nearby.Keep reading
February 27, 2023: Brilliant Venus approaches Jupiter, two nights before their conjunction. The moon passes close to Mars near midnight.Keep reading
February 26, 2023: As the Venus-Jupiter conjunction nears, the two planets are close in the west-southwest after sundown. The moon is near the Pleiades star cluster during the evening.Keep reading