August 17, 2022: This morning the moon appears along the string of four morning planets that stretch from horizon to horizon. Without a bright moon, look for the Milky Way after the end of evening twilight.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:01 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:48 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Here is the planet forecast for today:
The last call is nearing to see simultaneously the four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – in the morning planet parade. The quartet spans over 165° from the west-southwest horizon to the east-northeast skyline. On the 28th, Saturn sets as Venus rises when the gap reaches 180°. Before then, dimmer Saturn disappears into the thicker air near the horizon.
An hour before sunrise, locate the moon, 67% illuminated. It is nearly two-thirds of the way up in the south, about halfway between bright Jupiter and Mars. The lunar orb is in front of Aries, over 12° below Hamal, the pattern’s brightest star.
Jupiter, over 25° to the lower right of the gibbous moon, is about halfway up in the south-southwest. It is retrograding in Cetus. Jupiter is at opposition on September 26.
Saturn is appearing lower in the west-southwest each morning. At this hour, the Ringed Wonder is less than 10° up in the west-southwest. Do not confuse it with Fomalhaut, meaning “the mouth of the southern fish,” at about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Saturn, but it is over 20° to the left of that planet, somewhat directly below Jupiter.
Looking toward the east, Venus and Mars are with many bright stars. The brilliant Morning Star is less than 5° above the east-northeast horizon and nearly 15° to the lower left of Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins.
Mars is over halfway up in the southeast, near the Pleiades star cluster. The planet is marching eastward in Taurus. This daily change is obvious, passing the cluster on the 20th and reaching Aldebaran during early September. Then it passes between the Bull’s horns during October.
Through a binocular, Mars and the star cluster fit into the same binocular field of view. The Red Planet is 5.9° to the lower right of Alcyone – also known as Eta Tauri – the cluster’s brightest star.
In two mornings, the moon enters the binocular field of view for one morning with the planet and the stellar bunch. This is the closest gathering of this trio until 2058!
Thirty minutes after sunset, Mercury, suffering from a poor apparition for northern hemisphere sky watchers, is less than 5° up in the west. An unobstructed horizon, a clear sky near the horizon, and a binocular are needed to attempt to see this world closest to the sun.
At the same time, Saturn is less than 10° up in the east-southeast. Unlike Mercury, the Ringed Wonder is visible nearly all night. The best time to see Saturn is later during the evening when it is above the skyline. The planet is three evenings past its opposition and closest to Earth.
With the moon rising nearly four hours after sunset, a two-hour window of darkness is available between the end of evening twilight and moonrise. The window grows about an hour each evening with the moon’s eastward passage.
The Milky Way arches from the southern horizon, between Sagittarius and Scorpius, upward through the Summer Triangle. The galaxy’s plane is laced with glowing gas clouds, delicate star clusters, and wisps of dust. Without specifically looking for its named celestial wonders, scan the faint cloud of light with a binocular. You’ll be amazed at its sights.
By three hours after sunset, bright Jupiter is about 15° up in the east. Dimmer Saturn is nearly one-third of the way up in the south-southeast, near Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
Fomalhaut is low in the southeast at this hour.
By tomorrow morning the four planets and the moon are again arched across the sky, but the visibility of the four together is reaching its final morning.
- 2023, December 19: A Scorpion Fumble, Moon MidwayDecember 19, 2023: Before sunrise, Venus appears below the Scorpion’s claws. After sundown, the moon is nearly midway from Saturn to Jupiter.
- 2023, December 18: Pinched VenusDecember 18, 2023: Look for Venus between the Scorpion’s claws in the southeast before sunrise. The thick crescent moon is in the evening sky with Jupiter and Saturn.
- 2023, December 17: Celestial PairsDecember 17, 2023: Before sunrise, Venus passes Zubenelgenubi, a planet-star conjunction. After sundown, Saturn and crescent moon are paired, a planet-moon conjunction.
- 2023, December 16: Venus Clawed, Evening Crescent Nears SaturnDecember 16, 2023: Before daybreak, Venus is above the Scorpion’s southern claw. After nightfall, the crescent moon nears Saturn.
- 2023, December 15: Brilliant Morning Star, Evening Lunar CrescentDecember 15, 2023: Before sunrise, brilliant Venus approaches Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion’s southern claw. The crescent moon returns to the western evening sky.