August 10, 2022: The four bright morning planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – continue to parade across the morning sky. The bright moon leads Saturn and Jupiter westward during the evening hours.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:54 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:58 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Today is the predicted heliacal rising date for Sirius at latitude 40° north. With a cloudless, unobstructed horizon, the star is low in the east-southeast at about 30 minutes before sunup. Use a binocular to initially scan the horizon. When spotted look without the binocular. Depending on the clarity of the sky, the star may not be visible for a day or two. The first observation depends on local weather conditions.
The date of the first morning appearance depends on the latitude. More southerly latitudes see it earlier. In two days, the star is expected to appear for Chicago’s latitude. A view from the lakefront provides an excellent horizon to look for the star.
Here is the planet visibility forecast for today:
The moon sets shortly before the beginning of morning twilight. Try to look for Perseid meteors again this morning against the growing twilight. The shower’s radiant is high in the east where most of the meteors appear, but they appear anywhere in the sky. Because of the moon’s brightness, the prospect of seeing the full effect of the peak morning is low.
The four morning planets continue to make a long arc across the morning sky from the east-northeast skyline to the west-southwest horizon.
In the east-northeast an hour before sunrise, Venus is nearly in line with Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins. Venus was closest to Pollux four mornings ago. This morning’s arrangement is interesting only in its geometry and to show the daily eastward movement of the quick-stepping Venus. Tomorrow morning, Venus is east (to the left) of the imaginary line that connects the two named stars.
Find a clear horizon looking toward the east-northeast, Venus is about 6° above the horizon. The Morning Star is slowly slipping into brighter twilight, rising 100 minutes before the sun. It is losing two to three minutes of rising time each morning.
Pollux is nearly 8° to the upper left of Venus, and Castor is 4.5° to the upper left of Pollux. At this spot, Venus moved into Cancer this morning.
The planets frequently move through this region of the sidereal background, but travel relatively far from Pollux. Because the moon’s orbit is tilted compared to the solar system’s plane, the lunar orb can appear somewhat close to the star.
Mars is about halfway up in the east-southeast, near the Pleiades star cluster that is on the back of Taurus. Mars continues its eastward march through the constellation, carrying it through its opposition on December 7 and exiting from the star pattern during March 2023. This morning, the Red Planet is 8.4° to the lower right of the star cluster.
Mars passes the Pleiades in 10 days. On the morning of the 19th, the moon appears between the cluster and the planet. The gathering easily fits into the field of a standard binocular with a 7.5° field of view. A grouping that is this close does not occur again until June 18, 2058! In the interim close groupings occur, some with other planets, but not within this field of view. The next closest is 8.1° on March 16, 2051. Groupings of three celestial objects in a binocular field are rare events!
The moon passes the Pleiades and Mars each month. Mars passes the Pleiades about every 23 months. When the moon joins the scene, either Mars or the lunar orb can be out of range to fit into the binocular field.
The moon’s orbit is complicated by its tilt. The points of intersection with the ecliptic are known as the nodes of the orbit. The nodes slide along the solar system’s plane in a cycle that completes every 18.6 years. So, when the moon passes Mars with the Pleiades nearby, it can be too far away from the Pleiades for all to fit into the field.
So, about every two years Mars and the moon are gathered near the Pleiades, making notable views in the sky, but they are rarely bunched closely together.
The figure of a bull is somewhat easy to recognize. The Hyades star cluster and Aldebaran outline the animal’s head and identify an eye. Elnath and Zeta Tauri dot the horn’s tips. The Pleiades are on its back.
This morning, use a binocular to spot the Red Planet and Uranus in the same field of view, 5.3° apart. The aquamarine planet is to the upper right of Mars.
Likely, Jupiter is the easiest bright planet to find this morning. It is over halfway up in the south. Only Venus is brighter. The Jovian Giant is retrograding with the dim stars of Cetus. The Sea Monster’s tail – Deneb Kaitos – is about halfway from the southern horizon to Jupiter.
Saturn, low in the southwest is near Deneb Algedi and Nashira in eastern Capricornus. It is retrograding, passing opposition on the 14th. Do not confuse the planet with Fomalhaut – meaning “the mouth of the southern fish.” This star is to the lower left of the Ringed Wonder, and above the west-southwest horizon. The star Skat, the lower leg of Aquarius, is higher and to the upper left of Saturn.
At this gap, Saturn becomes more difficult to see with Venus. The four planets span over 156°. On the 28th, the gap is 180°, Venus rises as Saturn sets.
Approaching its opposition, Saturn rises in the east-southeast 21 minutes after sunset. Look for it when the sky is darker later.
Then again, Mercury is a challenge to see with a narrow window before it sets. Thirty minutes after sundown, the speedy planet is less than 5° above the west horizon. It sets 26 minutes later. The latest setting time interval is only one minute longer beginning tomorrow and ending on the 14th. The visibility of the planet worsens as it dims.
By an hour after sunset, when the stars are visible, the bright moon, 98% illuminated, is low in the southeast. It reaches its Full moon phase tomorrow evening. Saturn, low in the east-southeast, is less than 20° to the lower left of the lunar orb.
At three hours after sunset, Jupiter is above the east horizon with Saturn in the southeast and the moon in the south-southeast. During the night, they appear farther westward. Mars rises over 90 minutes after Jupiter. The moon sets as Venus rises in the east-northeast tomorrow morning. The four bright planets are again strung across the sky from horizon to horizon.
- 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.