August 3, 2022: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are along an arc from east-northeast to the southwest before daybreak. After sundown, the waxing lunar crescent is near Spica.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:47 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:06 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The four bright morning planets seemingly continue to scatter across the sky, from brilliant Venus in the east-northeast to Saturn in the west-northwest. One hour before sunrise, the quartet is spread along the plane of the solar system spanning over 147°. The three planets are somewhat equally-spaced across the sky, but the Venus – Mars gap is larger than the Mars – Jupiter separation and the Jupiter – Saturn interval. Each morning, the Venus – Saturn gap continues to widen.
In about ten days, Saturn becomes difficult to observe when it appears below about 5° above the west-southwest horizon. When the gap gets to 180°, near the end of the month, Saturn sets as Venus rises, a planet-planet opposition. After that time, only three bright planets are in the morning sky simultaneously, either Saturn or Venus with Jupiter and Mars.
This morning brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast. It is in a slow slide toward the sun and its superior conjunction with our central star during early October. This morning the planet rises 107 minutes before the sun. It rises one to two minutes later each morning.
Venus is to the lower right of the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. It passes 6.5° to the lower right of Pollux in three mornings.
Dimmer Mars is higher in the sky, about halfway up in the east-southeast to the upper right of the Pleiades star cluster and 60° to the upper right of Venus.
The star cluster may catch your attention from your peripheral vision. It has six or seven stars visible to the unaided eyes, a few dozen through a binocular.
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 the dim planet 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 1.6° below Uranus. Watch Mars stride away from Uranus the next few mornings.
Bright Jupiter is over halfway up in the south, over 40° to the upper right of Mars. The Jovian Giant 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 and over 45° to the lower right of Jupiter. 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. Through a binocular, watch Saturn move westward toward the star Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart).
At thirty minutes after sunset, bright Mercury is less than 4° up in the west-northwest. It is bright, but it is hiding in bright twilight. Use a binocular to find the elusive planet. If the sky is exceptionally clear, the star Regulus – the heart of Leo – is 0.9° to the lower left of the planet. This is a very challenging or nearly impossible observation, but we’ll see whether other outlets tell unknowing sky watchers to look for this without any optical aid or that it’s easy to see.
This evening Mercury sets 53 minutes after sundown, only four minutes later than its maximum interval, occurring August 11-14. The planet is dimming each evening as well. If you’re trying to find the fast-moving planet, look during the next week, before it dims and completely blends in with the blush of evening twilight.
When the stars are easily visible, about an hour after sunset, the crescent moon, 35% illuminated, is less than one-third of the way up in the southwestern sky above the star Spica – meaning “the ear of corn” – that is 3.3° to the lower left of the crescent.
Look again this evening for earthshine on the night portion of the lunar orb. The effect fades as the moon phase grows. Earth’s phase is decreasing from the Full phase when viewed from the moon. Tonight, Earth is 65% illuminated. Can you see moonshine lighting up the ground around you? If the moon is casting your shadow, moonlight is brightening and earthshine is dimming.
The morning planet parade begins when Saturn crosses the east-southeast horizon, 41 minutes after sunset. The planet is approaching its opposition with the sun, when it rises at sunset. This occurs on August 14. Until then, the Ringed Wonder rises three to four minutes earlier each night.
By three hours after sundown, Jupiter is low in the east while Saturn is in the southeast with Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
Mars follows Jupiter over 90 minutes after the Jovian Giant rises. By an hour before daybreak, the four planets are again along an arc from east-northeast to the southwest.
February 28, 2023: One night before their close conjunction, Venus approaches Jupiter in the west-southwest after sundown. The moon is near the horns of Taurus with Mars nearby.Keep reading
February 27, 2023: Brilliant Venus approaches Jupiter, two nights before their conjunction. The moon passes close to Mars near midnight.Keep reading
February 26, 2023: As the Venus-Jupiter conjunction nears, the two planets are close in the west-southwest after sundown. The moon is near the Pleiades star cluster during the evening.Keep reading