July 11, 2022: Four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are aligned in the morning sky. After sundown, the bright moon is with Ophiuchus.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:26 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:26 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Today, daylight slips back to fifteen hours losing a few minutes to nighttime each day.
The eastern sky is decorated with bright stars and three planets before daybreak, while Saturn is in the south-southwest. Begin looking about an hour before sunrise for Venus. It is low in the east-northeast, about 9° above the horizon. Find a clear horizon to see in that direction.
Likely before you see Venus, Capella – meaning “the little she-goat” – may catch your eye. It is the bright star that is about one-third of the way up in the sky in the northeast. Venus is nearly 24° to the lower right of the Goat Star.
The Pleiades or Seven Sisters is about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Capella.
Venus is quickly stepping through Taurus. It is 12.7° to the lower left of Aldebaran, the reddish star that is nearly 15° up in the east and 6.4° to the lower right of Elnath – meaning “the one butting with horns” – that marks the tip of the northern horn of Taurus. Tomorrow, Venus passes that star. Earth’s nearest planet is 3.3° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau on the chart) that is the Bull’s southern horn. Use a binocular, because this dimmer star is only 6° above the horizon at this hour.
Because of its faster eastward motion, Venus seems to be leaving the other three bright planets in its planetary dust. Mars is nearly 50° to the upper right of Venus and 26.6 to the upper right of the Pleiades star cluster. The Red Planet is about two-thirds of the way from Venus to Jupiter.
Jupiter is the bright star that is about halfway up in the sky above the southeast horizon. Mars is about 26° to the lower left of Jupiter. Notice that Mars is nearly halfway from Jupiter to the Pleiades, although the three are not in a line. Mars is below and imaginary line from the Jovian Giant to the star cluster.
The Jupiter – Mars gap is widening as Mars continues its eastward march in Aries, while Jupiter is slowing to reverse its direction later in the month.
Saturn, the dimmest of the four bright morning planets, is one third of the way up in the south-southwest, 1.4° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi – meaning “the kid’s tail.” Saturn is retrograding in eastern Capricornus, an illusion as our planet, moving faster through an inner orbit is readying to lap the more distant and slower planet. Use a binocular to watch Saturn move compared to the distant stars.
The Venus – Saturn gap is nearly 120°.
In two days, the moon reaches its Full moon phase. This evening, the bright moon, 96% illuminated is low in the south-southeast after sunset. It is with the constellation Ophiuchus, above Sagittarius – also known as the Teapot – and Scorpius, 16.1° to the lower left of Antares. The dimmer stars are washed out by the moon’s brightness.
The lunar orb is above the region of the center of the galaxy that has a galactic black hole. Colorized radio maps of the region around the black hole were recently released.
Occasionally, conversations occur about the number of constellations along the ecliptic that make the background for the apparent motions of the sun, moon, and planets. Generally, thirteen constellations – the famous twelve and Ophiuchus – make the astronomical zodiac, defined by the apparent motion of the sun that reflects Earth’s orbit. Parts of others extend into the band around the ecliptic – such as Scutum, Cetus, Orion, Auriga, Hydra, and Corvus. Because the moon’s orbit is tilted over 5°, it is more likely to briefly pass through the lesser-known constellations.
The constellations do not evenly divide the sky. They look like the outlines of cities, counties, states, and even gerrymandered election districts. A corner of Cetus is very near the plane of the solar system. The moon and planets are frequently in front of those stars.
The sun is in front of Ophiuchus for nearly three weeks, while it is with Scorpius for about a week, because of the division of the constellation patchwork.
For example, Jupiter is in front of Cetus and will remain there through August 31 when it retrogrades into Pisces. After it resumes its eastward motion, Jupiter returns to the Sea Monster on February 5, 2023, and moves back into Pisces’ boundaries two weeks later.
July 29, 2022: Jupiter’s retrograde begins today. The Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaks after midnight. Four morning planets parade across the sky. Catch a glimpse of Mercury after sunset.Keep reading
July 28, 2022: The four morning planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible before daybreak. Look eastward for a collection of bright stars with Venus and Mars. Saturn peeks above the horizon during evening twilight.Keep reading