July 26, 2022: The crescent moon makes a spectacular artistic display with Venus before sunrise. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn arc across the sky above Venus. Draco is in the north after twilight ends.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:39 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:15 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Before sunrise, a razor-thin crescent moon, 3.9° to the upper left of Morning Star Venus, is over 10° up in the east-northeast before sunrise.
The moon phase is only 5% illuminated and easily fits into a binocular field with Venus. Look for earthshine on the moon. This is from Earth reflecting sunlight that gently lights up the lunar night. This is similar to what a bright moon does to the terrestrial landscape. From the moon, Earth is nearly at its Full Earth phase, shining brightly to illuminate the moon’s night.
The sky around the moon and Venus this morning is smattered with bright stars. Orion’s shoulders, Betelgeuse and Bellatrix are over 20° to the right of Venus.
Bright Capella, over one-third of the way up in the east-northeast, is to the upper left of Venus.
Aldebaran with the Hyades star cluster and Pleiades star cluster are to the upper right of the brilliant planet.
Mars – dimmer than Venus and Capella, but brighter than Aldebaran – is about halfway up in the sky above the east-southeast horizon and nearly 17° to the upper right of the Pleiades. In Aries, Mars is marching toward a conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster on August 20. Watch it close the gap each morning. On the morning of the 19th, the moon is between the planet and the star cluster.
Bright Jupiter is high in the south-southeast. In front of the stars of Cetus, the Jovian Giant is slowing to seemingly reverse its course and begin the illusion of retrograde motion in three mornings.
Saturn is the fourth bright planet visible this morning. It is less than one-third of the way up in the sky above the southwest horizon. The Ringed Wonder is retrograding near the stars Deneb Algedi and Nashira in eastern Capricornus.
With a binocular note the two named stars along with a row of stars cataloged as 42 Capricorni (42 Cap on the chart), 44 Capricorni (44 Cap), and 45 Capricorni (45 Cap) that are in the same field of view with Saturn. The planet is west of 44 Cap and 45 Cap. It is passing 42 Cap this morning. In four mornings, it makes an isosceles triangle with Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
Mercury is starting a disappointing evening appearance, setting this evening at 40 minutes after sunset. It never sets more than 60 minutes after sunset and is low in the western sky. This is the worst evening appearance of the year. The best was in April. After this apparition, Mercury moves to the morning sky for its best morning appearance of the year during October.
At the end of evening twilight, about two hours after sunset at Chicago’s latitude, Draco is high in the northern sky wrapped around the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. A darker location makes this constellation easier to find.
Recently dimmer constellations, Ophiuchus and Hercules, have been highlighted in these articles. Ophiuchus is in the south above Scorpius and Sagittarius. Hercules is above the Ophiuchus, high in the south. Hercules is upside down and its foot is on the head of Draco.
Draco is in the northern sky. Likely the Big Dipper and at least Polaris are visible from many locations. The Dragon’s tail starts between the dippers and the body goes between them and up into the sky. It curves around, reaching the four stars of the head, almost overhead.
In Greek mythology, a dragon fought with the Titans, the giants, against the Olympians. During one battle it was tossed into the sky by Athena, where it is still is today.
Thuban – meaning “the serpent or the dragon” – was once the North Star. Our planet slightly wobbles and the North Pole slowly points to different spots in the sky. At the center of the sky’s apparent movement each day and night, the distant star above, if any, does not seem to move during the night. This occurred for Thuban from about 4000 BC to 2000 BC. There were times when Earth’s axis of rotation did not point toward any bright star. This occurs now in the southern hemisphere where there is no bright star above the South Pole.
The constellation has other named stars, such as Rastaban – meaning “the serpent’s head;” Eltanin – “the dragon’s head;” Altais – “the he goat;” Edasich – “the hairy male hyena;” Giausar – “the dragon’s head and tail;” and Grumium – “the under jaw.”
Look for this dimmer constellation from a light-free area, especially before the moon brightens in the evening sky in about 10 days.
By three hours after sunset, Saturn, rising less than an hour after sunset, is low in the southeast. This begins the morning planet parade that shows four of the bright planets. By this hour Jupiter is low in the east. Mars follows Jupiter across the horizon, 90 minutes later. By an hour before sunrise tomorrow morning, the four planets are spaced across the sky from east-northeast to southwest, with the moon to the lower left of Venus, just above the east-northeast horizon.
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