August 14, 2022: Saturn is at opposition today. It rises in the southeast, appearing to move westward during the night. Mars begins its approach to the Pleiades star cluster before sunrise.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:58 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:52 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Saturn is at opposition today at 12:10 p.m. CDT, when Earth is precisely between the sun and the planet, over 820 million miles away from us. Spotting the planet at the precise time is not important. It is not visible from the western hemisphere at that time. At opposition, Saturn is best seen later during the evening and near midnight. When it is above the horizon, the planet is at its brightest and nearest to Earth. As the weeks progress, Saturn is higher in the sky after sunset than on opposition evening. During the next several weeks convince your neighborhood sky watcher to pull out their telescope to spot the planet, its highly reflective rings, and some of its brightest moons.
Viewing the planet through a telescope is one of the spectacular sights in nature. A flattened planet and its brightest rings are easy to see at magnifications around 100x. A stripe or two can be seen in the clouds that wrap around the distant world. From ring tip to ring tip, they appear about the same width as Jupiter’s globe through a telescope at the same magnification.
Saturn’s large moon Titan is visible during most telescopic settings. It revolves around the planet nearly every 16 days. The satellite and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede are larger than Mercury. Titan has an atmosphere that obscures the surface.
At Saturn’s distance, it revolves around the sun in nearly 30 years. The worlds closer to the sun revolve faster and Earth catches up and passes between Saturn and the sun every 378 days. At each opposition, Saturn appears farther eastward compared to the stars. It appears about 12° farther eastward each year. Extend your arm and make a fist. The distance from your thumb knuckle to the outside edge of your pinky finger is about 10°.
At opposition, Saturn is highest in the south around midnight, becoming a challenge to see before sunrise. An hour before daybreak, the planet is only 10° above the west-southwest horizon. Do not confuse Saturn with Fomalhaut, the star that is low in the southwest. Saturn is near two easily identified stars, Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
In two weeks, Saturn sets before Venus rises in the east-northeast. On this morning, Earth is between Venus and Saturn. This is a planet-to-planet opposition. They are 180° apart in the sky. After the 28th, only three bright planets are visible simultaneously before sunrise, either Venus or Saturn with Mars and Jupiter.
Through a binocular, Deneb Algedi and Nashira are easily identified. Saturn continues its retrograde toward Iota Capricorni (ι Cap) on the chart. The Ringed Wonder reverses its direction about 0.5° to Iota.
The bright moon, 92% illuminated, is to the upper left of Saturn and about two-thirds of the distance to bright Jupiter. The lunar orb is in front of the dim stars of Pisces that are more difficult to locate with the lunar brightness.
For those sky watchers wanting a small challenge, use a binocular to locate Neptune. About twice the distance of Uranus, Neptune can be found near the stars 20 Piscium (20 Psc on the chart) and 24 Piscium (24 Psc). Once you locate the starfield with the moon, remove the bright lunar disc from the field of view by moving the binocular slightly. Look for a dim bluish star. That is Neptune. A larger telescope and higher magnifications are needed to see Neptune’s globe. The binocular identifies the planet.
Bright Jupiter is over halfway up in the south-southwest. It is retrograding in Cetus, the Sea Monster. It enters the eastern edge of Pisces on September 2.
Deneb Kaitos, the Sea Monster’s tail, is to the lower left of Jupiter, less than half the distance to the south horizon.
Farther eastward, Mars – marching eastward in Taurus – nears the Pleiades star cluster. The Red Planet appears in front of the Bull until March 2023. It reaches opposition on December 7, near Aldebaran, after it moves twice between the horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. Notice the planet’s daily movement, that is about 0.5°, about equal to the moon’s apparent diameter in the sky.
Extend your arm. The distance across your pinky finger nail is about 0.5°, the moon’s diameter and the distance Mars moves each morning.
This morning the planet and the stellar bunch snugly fit into a binocular’s field of view. Mars is 6.8° to the lower right of the cluster’s brightest star.
In five mornings, the moon fits nicely between Mars and the Pleiades and into a binocular. Such close gatherings of this trio are rare. Every month, the moon passes the other two, but Mars is near the cluster about every 23 months. This makes a short window where Mars is close enough to the cluster and the moon passes closely. The next time this occurs is June 18, 2058, during bright morning twilight!
Venus is low in the east-northeast, quickly stepping eastward in Cancer. It is about 11.5° below Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins.
At this hour, Procyon is just above the east horizon. Its appearance is a signal that Sirius is not far behind. Procyon means “before the dog.” At Chicago’s latitude, it rises about 25 minutes before the Dog Star.
The gap between the four morning planets is 161°, 19° shy of the Venus-Saturn opposition.
Saturn is rising at sunset and appears in the sky all night. Look for it later this evening, when it is higher in the southeastern sky. It is in the west-southwest tomorrow morning.
Thirty minutes after sunset, Mercury is less than 5° above the west horizon. The planet is at its maximum setting time interval, 57 minutes after sunset. Mercury is challenging to see. It is bright, but dimming as this apparition continues.
Three hours after sunset, the bright moon, 87% illuminated, is over 10° up in the east-southeast. Jupiter is the bright star to the upper left of the lunar orb. Saturn is to the right of the moon and less than one-third of the way up in the sky above the south-southeast horizon. Mars rises over 90 minutes after Jupiter. Four planets, again, nearly span the sky before sunrise tomorrow along with the moon
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