2022, August 20: Mars-Pleiades Conjunction, Last Call Morning Planet Parade

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August 20, 2022: Today is the Mars-Pleiades conjunction. This is the last morning to see the four planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – parade together across the sky.  Saturn is disappearing in the west-southwest as Venus appears in the east-northeast.

Chart Caption – 2022, August 20: The moon is near Mars and the Pleiades star cluster before daybreak.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:04 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:43 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Here is the planet forecast for today:

Morning Sky

SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY

The Mars – Pleiades conjunction occurs this morning.  At one hour before sunrise, find the moon, 38% illuminated, over halfway up in the east-southeast.  It is 7.2° to the lower left of Mars.

MARS OPPOSITION 2022 SUMMARY

Mars is stepping eastward in Taurus. It passes 5.5° from the Pleiades star cluster this morning, a fairly wide conjunction.

Chart Caption – 2022, August 20: Through a binocular, the Pleiades and Mars are visible together. During the next week, the Red Planet is moving toward 37 Tauri (37 Tau).

About every 23 months, Mars passes the Pleiades, specifically the cluster’s brightest star, Alcyone – also known as Eta Tauri.  Until 2038, each successive conjunction is closer.  At the next pass on July 21, 2024, Mars is 4.8° away.  At the February 5, 2038, conjunction, the planet passes 2.0° from Alcyone.

After today it passes 37 Tauri (37 Tau on the chart) in a week and Aldebaran on September 7th.  Through a binocular, watch the planet march through the bright starfields.  Here is a star chart of Taurus to plot the planet’s positions during the next several months.

This is the last call to see simultaneously the four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – in the morning planet parade.  With Saturn low in the west-southwest as Venus appears in the east-northeast, this string of planets is disappearing.  Can you still find them an hour before sunrise?  On the 28th, Saturn sets and Venus rises. Afterward, only three planets are visible simultaneously, either Venus or Saturn with Jupiter and Mars.

The planet parade re-forms in the evening sky later in the year, when Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are visible eastward from the sunset point.

Chart Caption – 2022, August 20: Venus is visible with the bright stars in the eastern sky before sunrise.

At this hour, Venus is low in the east-northeast, nearly 20° to the lower left of Pollux and about the same distance from Procyon, low in the east.  Sirius is about the same altitude as Venus, but in the east-southeast.  You should be able to follow the brightest planet and the brightest star for another fifteen to twenty-five minutes before brighter twilight takes over.

Chart Caption – 2022, August 20: Before sunrise, Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwestern sky.

This morning, bright Jupiter is about halfway up in the southwest.  It is retrograding in Cetus.  The Sea Monster’s tail, Deneb Kaitos, is to the lower left of the Jovian Giant, less than halfway from the planet to the horizon.

Saturn is low in the west-southwest.  It is about the same altitude as Fomalhaut, the star to its lower left.  Now less than a week after its opposition, the Ringed Wonder rises before sunset, appearing low in the southeast during the early evening.

We say “goodbye” to this four-planet parade until the five appear in the evening sky.

Evening Sky

Photo Caption – This image shows the star-studded center of the Milky Way towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The crowded center of our galaxy contains numerous complex and mysterious objects that are usually hidden at optical wavelengths by clouds of dust — but many are visible here in these infrared observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Photo Credit: ESA, NASA)

Milky Way season continues on moonless nights.  From a location that does not suffer from outdoor lighting, the Milky Way emerges from the southern horizon between Sagittarius and Scorpius, passing through the Summer Triangle, and meeting the horizon in the north-northeast.

Chart Caption – 2022, August 20: Two hours after sunset, Jupiter and Saturn are in the eastern sky.

Two hours after sunset and after the end of evening twilight, bright Jupiter is low in the eastern sky.  Like Venus and unlike Saturn, Jupiter can be seen near the horizon.

The Ringed Wonder is about 20° up in the southeast, near the stars Deneb Algedi and Nashira.  It is retrograding in Capricornus. 

Chart Caption – 2022, August 20: Through a binocular, look for Saturn’s place with the stars in eastern Capricornus.

Look at the scene with a binocular.  In this orientation in the evening sky, the star Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart) is to the upper right of the named trio.  Saturn is retrograding toward that star, nearly reaching it by the end of October before the planet reverses is apparent course to begin moving eastward again.

Mars follows Jupiter across the horizon over 90 minutes after Jupiter rises.  Later tonight the three planets are like stepping stones across the sky from the eastern sky to the southwest.

Tomorrow morning, Saturn dips into the murky, thick sky near the horizon when Venus rises.  The Ringed Wonder is visible through a binocular, but not to the unaided eye.  The last call to see the four planets simultaneously was made.

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