August 2, 2022: Venus speeding away from Earth and our planet passing Saturn widens the morning planet parade. The evening lunar crescent is with the stars of Virgo.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:46 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:08 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Four bright planets are visible in the sky before sunrise. The rare planet alignment of the five bright planets that appeared in solar system order during late June continues to break up. Mercury zipped back toward the sun and into the evening sky. The other four continue to separate. This is led by Venus’ quick stepping eastward motion and Saturn’s seasonal westward migration.
Venus passed between Earth and the sun during early January and has been racing away since then. By October it disappears into bright twilight, then reappears in the evening sky dashing to catch up with Earth again on August 13, 2023.
Saturn revolves around the sun in nearly 30 years. Earth catches and passes the Ringed Wonder about every 380 days. Saturn appears near the same stars throughout each annual appearance. On each subsequent apparition the planet is with stars a little farther eastward. During a single appearance, it appears in the eastern sky after its solar conjunction and each week it is noticeably farther westward.
As Earth catches the planet, it then appears in the eastern sky after sundown. At opposition it appears all night. Then it appears farther west each evening until it disappears into evening twilight, passes behind the sun, and returns to the morning sky, about 10° farther eastward among the stars than the last appearance.
Saturn’s annual westward migration generally follows the same pattern as the stars, from Earth’s revolution around the sun.
So, this current slow-motion breakup of the four morning planets is from Venus racing away from Earth and Earth catching up to and passing Saturn.
The Venus – Saturn gap is over 145°. When the separation reaches 180° at the end of the month, Saturn sets as Venus rises, a planet-planet opposition. By early September, Saturn sets before Venus rises, leaving only three bright planets above the horizon simultaneously, either Saturn or Venus with Jupiter and Mars. The effect begins to occur about mid-month because Saturn is a challenge to see near the horizon without a binocular, but Venus’ brilliance is visible even when it is immediately above the horizon.
This morning, Venus is with the bright stars that are prominent during winter’s evenings – headlined by Orion, now climbing across the eastern horizon.
A clear, unobstructed horizon is needed to find Venus, less than 10° up in the east-northeast. It is near Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins.
Dimmer Mars is higher in the sky, about halfway up in the east-southeast to the upper right of the Pleiades star cluster. The Red Planet is marching eastward in Aries. In about a week it moves into Taurus and passes the star cluster on August 20.
This morning the planet is in the same binocular field as Uranus. The more-distant planet is near the threshold of human vision and likely somewhat washed out by the growing twilight. Use a binocular to spot Mars 1.3° to the lower right of Uranus. Mars opens a gap with the planet, appearing in the same binocular field for several mornings.
Farther toward the west, bright Jupiter is over halfway up in the southern sky. It is retrograding in Cetus.
The Sea Monster’s tail – Deneb Kaitos – is below Jupiter, about halfway toward the horizon.
Saturn is about 20° up in the southwest. It is higher than Fomalhaut – “the mouth of the southern fish” – and lower than Skat – “the lower leg” of Aquarius.
Saturn is retrograding near Deneb Algedi and Nashira, two stars in eastern Capricornus. Watch Saturn change positions westward toward the star Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart).
Bright Mercury, deep in bright twilight and near the horizon, is making an evening appearance. Until Jupiter rises, it is the brightest star in the sky, but it has limited visibility. At 30 minutes after sunset, it is only 3° above the west-northwest horizon. It sets about twenty minutes later. The planet dims each evening as well. Even at its latest setting time, 57 minutes, the planet is barely above the horizon. This is the worst apparition of the year. The best occurred during April.
An hour after sundown, when stars are easily visible, the crescent moon, 26% illuminated, is over 15° above the west-southwest horizon, in front of Virgo.
Look for earthshine on the night portion of the lunar orb. This effect is from sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land. It gently illuminates the lunar night. The same occurs on Earth when the moon is near the full phase. In a few evenings, moonlight begins to illuminate the ground, casting shadows.
For sky watchers in parts of South America and Central America, the crescent moon occults or blocks out the star Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis, earlier in the day.
The star Spica, meaning “the ear of corn,” is 13.5° to the left of the lunar crescent. Distinctly, blue-white in color, the star is the 10th brightest visible from the mid-northern latitudes. It is nearly 2,000 times brighter than our sun, shining from a distance of 250 light years.
Saturn leads the planet parade, crossing the east-southeast horizon at 44 minutes after sundown. It nears its opposition with the sun; that is, Earth is between the planet and the sun. In less than two weeks, the Ringed Wonder rises at sunset, appears to move across the sky during the night, and then sets in the west at sunrise.
By three hours after sunset, Jupiter is above the east horizon and Saturn, with the two stars of Capricornus described in the morning section, is low in the southeast. Mars rises over 90 minutes after Jupiter. By an hour before sunrise, Venus is in the east-northeast and the planet trio extends to the southwest.
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