August 15, 2022: Before sunrise, the bright gibbous moon is near bright Jupiter. Mars nears the Pleiades star cluster. Both are in a binocular field of view.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:59 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:51 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Today marks the heliacal rising of Sirius for latitude 50° north. This is the theoretical first date based on calculations from astronomer Jean Meeus. Whether the star is visible from this latitude depends on the sky watcher’s view of the horizon and the weather.
The first appearance of any star depends on the latitude. Stars south of the celestial equator – the extension of Earth’s equator into the sky – such as Sirius, Antares, and Spica, appear earlier at more southerly latitudes, while stars north of the celestial equator – such as Capella, Pollux, and Aldebaran – appear at northerly latitudes before they appear for southern hemisphere sky watchers.
The first appearance date for Sirius at 20° north latitude was July 24. For latitude 30° north, about the latitude of the famous Giza pyramids was August 1.
The star should be easily visible during twilight for the more southerly latitudes.
The four morning planets are reaching their extreme separation. When Venus, low in the east-northeast, and Saturn – nearing the horizon in the west-southwest – reach 180° of separation in the sky, Saturn sets when Venus rises. This occurs on the 28th. Afterwards, Saturn sets before Venus rises, leaving three bright planets in the sky simultaneously, either Venus or Saturn with Jupiter and Mars.
While brilliant Venus can be seen near the horizon, Saturn is more difficult to see as its brightness diminishes greatly when we look through more air near the horizon.
At one hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast. It is stepping quickly through Cancer. This morning it is 12.5° below Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins.
Venus is slowly slipping into brighter morning twilight. This morning it rises 94 minutes before sunrise. It loses a few minutes of rising time each morning, appearing as if the sun were reeling it back. By month’s end, Venus rises only 73 minutes before daybreak.
Mars, over halfway up in the southeast, is near the Pleiades star cluster. The planet marches eastward about 0.5° each day, heading toward its opposition on December 7.
The Red Planet brightens as Earth slowly overtakes it. It begins to retrograde on October 30. Before that begins, it moves through the rich starfields of Taurus, passing Aldebaran on September 6. Watch its daily change with the sidereal background with a binocular and with your unaided eye.
An interesting observing project to complete with children is to plot the location of the planet in the starfield. A star map of Taurus is located here. Each time Mars is observed, mark a dot on the star map and place a date next to it. A second project is to photograph the starfield every clear morning. A tripod-mounted camera is needed. Take several exposures between one and eight seconds to capture the planet with the starfield.
This morning Mars is in the same binocular field with the Pleiades star cluster. The planet is 6.4° to the lower right of Alcyone – also known as Eta Tauri – the brightest star in the bunch. In four mornings, the moon joins the binocular field. The trio is not this close together again until June 18, 2058!
Farther westward, bright Jupiter is “that bright star” to the upper right of the moon that is 86% illuminated. This evening look again for the moon and Jupiter about three hours after sunset and note the distance the lunar orb moves along its orbital path from this morning. Jupiter and the moon easily fit into the same binocular field this morning.
Jupiter is retrograding in Cetus. The Sea Monster’s tail, Deneb Kaitos, is to the lower left of the Jovian Giant, less than halfway toward the southern horizon.
Saturn is lower in the west-southwest, only 10° up in the sky. It is retrograding in Capricornus near the stars Deneb Aldegi and Nashira.
Saturn, one day after its opposition with the sun, is low in the east-southeast after sundown. Wait to look for it until a little later this evening.
Mercury, on its worse evening appearance of the year, is about 5° up in the west at 30 minutes after sunset. The planet is bright but hiding in the bright blush of evening twilight. Spotting the planet is very challenging. At least a binocular is needed to locate it.
Three hours after sunset, Jupiter, Saturn, and the gibbous moon are in the eastern sky. The moon, 79% illuminated, is low in the east, 10.1° to the lower left of bright Jupiter.
Saturn is about one-third of the way up in the south-southeast with Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
We are in the final days of the great morning planet parade with five planets that stretched across the sky during late June, but now with four bright planets. With clear horizons, Venus and Saturn are visible simultaneously before sunrise. Last call to see them is coming soon, but try again tomorrow morning.
The planets are moving toward the evening sky, where another parade of bright planets occurs near year’s end.
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