July 18, 2022: The morning planet parade is slowly breaking up. The Venus – Saturn gap continues to widen. Orion’s Bellatrix is making its first morning appearance. Saturn appears in the east-southeast as evening twilight ends.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:32 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:22 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The morning planet parade is slowly breaking apart. Venus, stepping quickly eastward, continues to outrun the other three planets. The gap from Venus to Saturn widens daily. In about a month, Saturn and Venus become difficult to see at the same time. When the gap reaches 180°, Saturn sets before Venus rises. This parade is in a slow-motion breakup.
The bright moon, 73% illuminated, is nearly halfway up in the south-southeast during morning twilight. It is to the lower right of bright Jupiter. The gap between the pair is about 10°. The lunar orb is in front of the stars of Pisces, while Jupiter is in front of Cetus the Sea Monster.
The Monster’s tail, Deneb Kaitos, is below Jupiter and 16.6° to the lower left of the moon. Another watery constellation is in the south. The fish’s mouth, Fomalhaut, is about 20° up in the south.
For sky watchers with telescopes, the Great Red Spot – a long-lived atmospheric disturbance in the Jovian atmosphere – crosses the middle of the planet in the southern hemisphere at 2:12 a.m. CDT. It is visible appearing on the east side of the planet about 50 minutes before the prime time and disappears about 50 minutes after the best view. At that hour, Jupiter is about one-third of the way up in the east-southeast from the Central Time Zone.
Back to morning twilight, Saturn, to the lower right of Jupiter and the moon, is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest. It is near “the Kid’s Tail” – Deneb Algedi. Saturn is retrograding in eastern Capricornus and slowly moving by the star.
Use a binocular to spot Saturn in the starfield. It is 1.3° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi and 2.2° to the upper left of Nashira. A trio of dimmer stars – cataloged as 42 Capricorni (42 Cap on the chart), 44 Capricorni (44 Cap), and 45 Capricorni (45 Cap) – are in the starfield near Saturn. Watch the Ringed Wonder pass them during the next few mornings.
Farther eastward, the star Bellatrix, one of Orion’s shoulders is making its first appearance in the morning sky. Find it low in the east at about an hour before sunrise. Looking for the star it helps getting practice to look for Sirius, when it makes its first appearance next month.
Back to the planet parade, Brilliant Venus is about 9° up in the east-northeast, 18.5° to the upper left of Bellatrix. Do not confuse Venus with Capella, the bright star about one-third of the way up in the northeast, to the upper left of Venus.
Taurus is becoming easier to see to the upper right of Venus. The star Aldebaran and two star clusters – Hyades and Pleiades – are easy to see. The Bull’s horns are marked by Elnath and Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau on the chart).
Mars, marching eastward in Aries, is heading toward the Pleiades. The planet is not as bright as Jupiter or Venus. This morning it is about a third of the way from Jupiter to Venus and over 20° to the upper right of the Pleiades. Mars passes the cluster in about a month.
Saturn is beginning to appear in the east-southeast as evening twilight ends about two hours after sunset. The Ringed Wonder is low in the east-southeast at this hour. Each night it appears about four minutes earlier. In a week it is higher in the sky at this hour.
Saturn is heading toward its opposition. It is in an opposite direction from the sun and appears in the sky opposite the sun’s rising, rising in the eastern sky at sunset and setting in the west as day breaks in the east.
Around opposition, the outer planets are closest to Earth and brightest in the night skies. Telescopes are pointed at them to attempt to see new features, such as dust storms on Mars are new clouds patterns on Jupiter and Saturn.
Remember that without the bright moon in the evening sky, this is Milky Way season, to see toward the center of the galaxy in the south and its hub arcing high into the eastern sky.
Take a short trip away from bright outdoor lights to see the amazing beauty of the night.
- 2023, October 12: Bright Morning Planets Bookend Stellar SpectacularOctober 12, 2023: Before sunrise, brilliant Venus and Jupiter bracket the Milky Way’s bright Orion region.
- 2023, October 11: Morning Earthshine, LeoOctober 11, 2023: The morning’s thin lunar crescent displays earthshine as it appears near the constellation Leo.
- 2023, October 10: Morning Venus-Moon-Regulus Gathering, Venus-Saturn OppositionOctober 10, 2023: This morning Venus, the crescent moon, and Regulus gather in the eastern sky for a beautiful celestial display. Venus and Saturn are at opposition today.
- 2023, October 9: Venus-Regulus Conjunction, Morning Crescent MoonOctober 9, 2023: The Venus-Regulus conjunction occurs this morning. The morning crescent moon is above Venus during twilight.
- 2023, October 8: Celestial Barnyard, Convergence at RegulusOctober 8, 2023: The moon is visible with a celestial barnyard during morning twilight. Venus and the lunar crescent head for a celestial gathering in two mornings.