July 23, 2022: A spectacular morning crescent moon is near the Pleiades star cluster before sunrise. The four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – continue to parade in the morning sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:36 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:18 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
A thin crescent moon appears near the Pleiades star cluster this morning before daybreak. The moon displays a crescent that is 24% illuminated. The lunar night glows gently from earthshine – reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land.
Look at the scene with a binocular. The moon and star cluster easily fit into the same field of view. Earthshine is brighter with the binocular’s assist.
Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster are below the moon. The moon is too far away to move the binocular to include the lunar crescent, the brighter star and the second cluster. They form a sideways “V” that makes the head of Taurus. Aldebaran marks an eye.
The Bull’s horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau on the chart), are to the left of Aldebaran.
Brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast, passing the foot of Castor, one of the Gemini Twins. Use a binocular to see it near the star Tejat Posterior – the heel.
To the right of Venus, notice Orion’s shoulders – Betelgeuse and Bellatrix – are making their first appearances in the morning sky.
Mars, marching eastward in Aries, is about 19° to the upper right of the Pleiades. It is not as bright as might be expected. The Red Planet continues to close in on the cluster, passing it on August 20. The morning before the conjunction, the crescent moon joins the planet and the cluster in the same binocular field of view.
Jupiter and Saturn are farther westward. Jupiter is the bright star that is over halfway up in the south-southeast. It is with Cetus, slowing down to reverse direction to start to retrograde within a week.
Use the binocular to locate Callisto, one of Jupiter’s largest moons to the west of the planet’s globe. The moon passed its greatest separation from the planet nearly two mornings ago, but it is far enough away from Jupiter to be seen.
At 1:20 a.m. and about two hours after Jupiter rises in Chicago, the Great Red Spot is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. The spot can be seen entering the scene up to 50 minutes before its central passing and then for about 50 minutes afterward. This is from the planet’s rapid rotation. A telescope is needed to see the long-lived southern hemisphere disturbance.
At an hour before sunrise, the star Deneb Kaitos – the sea monster’s tail – is over 20° below Jupiter.
Saturn, less than a third of the way up in the southwest, is over 45° to the lower right of Jupiter. The Ringed Wonder is retrograding near the stars Deneb Algedi and Nashira in eastern Capricornus.
Look at the starfield with a binocular. Along with Deneb Algedi and Nashira, three stars, cataloged as 42 Capricorni (42 Cap on the chart), 44 Capricorni (44 Cap), and 45 Capricorni (45 Cap), appear in the same field of view. Watch Saturn move past the dimmer trio and then make an isosceles triangle with the two named stars at month’s end.
Fomalhaut – the mouth of the southern fish – is over 20° to the lower left of Saturn.
The four bright morning planets are stretched across the sky from Venus to Saturn, covering nearly 133°. On August 28, Venus rises as Saturn sets, a Venus – Saturn opposition. After this date, only three bright planets are in the sky simultaneously, either Venus or Saturn with Jupiter and Mars. On the mornings leading up to the opposition, Saturn becomes difficult to see because of its low altitude – height above the horizon – as Venus rises. Around mid-August, seeing the four planets at the same time becomes a challenging observation.
Mercury, the fifth bright planet, is emerging from its solar conjunction. It is about 8° east of the sun, setting around 30 minutes after sunset. The planet is not visible high enough in the evening sky for easy observing on this cycle. Its best evening appearance for the year occurred during April. This is the third of four evening appearances during 2022. The planet’s maximum setting time after sundown is 57 minutes that occurs August 11-14.
Saturn is the first bright planet to cross the eastern horizon. Nearing its opposition so that it rises at sunset, the Ringed Wonder rises about an hour after sundown and earlier each evening. Jupiter rises about three hours after sunset, followed by Mars 80 minutes later. Venus rises 95 minutes before the sun, leaving the string of planets from the east-northeast to southwest tomorrow morning.
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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
December 30, 2022: The night’s brightest star, Sirius, is in the south at midnight as the year ends. The bright planet evening display continues as Mercury disappears into bright twilight.Keep reading