July 10, 2022: The gap in the four-planet morning parade continues to widen. After sundown, the bright moon is near the star Antares.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:25 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:27 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Step outside about an hour before sunrise and look south. The brightest star in the region is Fomalhaut – meaning “the mouth of the southern fish.” Saturn is over 30° up in the south-southwest and over 20° to the upper right of the star.
Saturn rises in the east-southeast about two hours after sunset, before midnight for most sky watchers.
Saturn is retrograding in eastern Capricornus, near the star Deneb Algedi. Retrograde is an illusion as our planet, moving faster through an inner orbit is readying to lap the more distant and slower planet.
As Earth approaches, the line of sight from our planet to Saturn compared to the distant stars shifts westward. This effect was the major question for early sky watchers, considering that many of them thought Earth was stationary and that all celestial bodies revolved around our central, fixed home. They invented several models to predict the planets’ places compared to the distant stars, but other’s thought retrograde motion was an illusion from Earth’s revolution. Interestingly, the demonstration of Earth’s revolution did not occur until 1838 when precise measurements were made through telescopes. This story is fascinating. The book, Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos by James Hirschfeld, is a well-told story of the quest to demonstrate Earth’s revolution around the sun.
Jupiter is nearing the time when it begins to retrograde. The Jovian Giant is “that bright star” in the southeast during morning twilight. It is nearly 45° to the upper left of Saturn and about the same height above the southeast horizon. It rises after midnight, about two hours after Saturn.
Mars, dimmer than Jupiter, is over one-third of the way up in the sky in the east-southeast and over 25° to the lower left of Jupiter. It is marching eastward in Aries. Mars is 12.5° to the lower right of the constellation’s brightest star, Hamal.
Mars is about one-third of the way from Jupiter to brilliant Morning Star Venus.
Venus is low in the east-northeast, about 9° above the horizon. Find a view toward that direction, free from obstructions. Looking from an elevated structure or hilltop may help with the observation.
Venus is quickly stepping through Taurus. It is 11.5° to the lower left of Aldebaran and 6.7° to the lower right of Elnath – the Bull’s northern horn. The southern horn – Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau on the chart) is becoming visible after its pass behind the sun. Use a binocular to see it. The planet passes between the horns in three mornings.
The bright star Capella is nearly one-third of the way up in the sky above the northeast horizon. It is about the same height (also known as the star’s altitude – not to be confused with the level an airplane flies) as the Pleiades star cluster that is about 15° above Aldebaran.
The spread of the four morning planets, from Venus to Saturn is over 120°. The gap continues to widen as Venus is leaving the other three in its planetary dust from its quick eastward speed.
Mercury is in bright sunlight and not easily visible under conventional means. It passes on the far side of the sun in six days and moves into the evening sky for an unfavorable view during August.
When Mercury returns to the morning sky during October, Jupiter and Saturn are in the evening sky, and Venus is nearing its superior conjunction with the sun, joining Mars in the morning sky that is near the horns of Taurus. By then, the rare five-planet display is spread across the night.
The moon is approaching its Full phase. This evening it is 81% illuminated, an interesting gibbous phase – not half-full and not a complete circle of light. It’s gibbous.
As night falls the lunar orb is about 20° up in the south-southeast and 2.2° to the upper left of Antares, commonly marked as the heart of the Scorpion. The star’s name means the “rival of Mars.”
Even with the moon’s bright light, look for Graffias – meaning “the crab” – and Dschubba, the Scorpion’s forehead or crown. The classic pincers – Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi – are to the upper right of the creature’s main body.
September 9, 2022: Mars continues its eastward march through the bright starfields of Taurus. The Harvest Moon is between Jupiter and Saturn after sunset.Keep reading
September 8, 2022: Three bright planets – Venus, Mars, and Jupiter – are visible before sunrise. Mars continues its eastward march in Taurus. After sundown, the bright moon is near Saturn.Keep reading
September 7, 2022: Mars passes Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, this morning. The conjunction’s gap is 4.3°. This evening, the bright moon is near Saturn.Keep reading