August 21, 2022: The moon seems caught between the Bull’s horns before sunrise. Venus and Sirius are about the same height above the horizon during morning twilight. Saturn and Jupiter are in the evening sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:05 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:42 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Here is the planet forecast for today:
At one hour before sunrise, the crescent moon, 29% illuminated, is about halfway up in the east. It is in a precarious place between the Bull’s horns – Elnath and Zeta Tauri.
The head of Taurus is made by Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. The Pleiades ride on the back of the Bull. This morning Mars, nearly two-thirds of the way up in the sky in the southeast, is nearly 25° to the upper right of the lunar orb and 10.3° to the upper right of Aldebaran.
Yesterday, Mars passed the Pleiades star cluster’s brightest star Alcyone, also known as Eta Tauri. This morning Mars is 5.5° to the lower right of that star.
This morning Mars passes Lambda Tauri (λ Tau on the chart), passing 6.5° to the upper left of that star.
Mars is visible in a binocular with the Pleiades and 37 Tau. Watch Mars continue its eastward march against the constellation. The Red Planet passes 2.6° to the lower right of this star in less than a week. Move your binocular slightly to see Mars with Lambda.
Use a binocular to see earthshine – reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land – on the night portion of the moon. A binocular makes this easier to see. Capture earthshine on a photograph of the moon with a tripod-mounted camera and an exposure up to a few seconds, depending on the camera’s settings.
Farther westward, Jupiter is about halfway up in the sky above the southwest horizon. It continues to retrograde in Cetus, reaching its opposition on September 26. The Sea Monster’s tail – Deneb Kaitos – is to the lower left of the Jovian Giant about halfway to the horizon.
At forty-five minutes before sunrise, brilliant Venus is nearly 7° above the east-northeast horizon. Find Sirius low in the east-southeast, at about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Venus. The brightest planet and the brightest star shine brightly from the eastern sky.
The star Procyon – meaning “before the dog” – because it rises less than 30 minutes before Sirius – the Dog Star – for sky watchers at the mid-northern latitudes.
Venus is slowly being reeled in by the sun. The Morning Star rises only 86 minutes before daybreak, losing two to three minutes of rising time each morning. By late October, it passes behind the sun and emerges into the evening sky.
We watched the gap expand between Venus and Saturn. This morning, the Ringed wonder is very close to the horizon at one hour before sunrise when Venus is low in the east-northeast. Saturn is not easily seen because it is not as bright at the Morning Star. In a week, Saturn sets before Venus rises.
Jupiter and Venus are now the focus of the expanding planet gap. The pair is about 125° apart. On October 1, the gap is 180°. Venus rises as Jupiter sets. Jupiter can be seen near the horizon, so this pair might be visible simultaneously until a day or two before their separation reaches its maximum.
At thirty minutes after sundown, Mercury is less than 5° up in the west. Seeing the planet is difficult, even though it is yet to reach its evening greatest elongation (August 27). The planet is dimming and hiding in the bright blush of evening twilight. It is about the brightness of Vega, but it is deep in twilight, setting only 24 minutes later. For the remainder of this apparition of the speedy planet, we say “goodbye” to Mercury, until it reappears in the morning sky for its best apparition of the year for northern hemisphere sky watchers. It reaches its morning greatest elongation on October 8.
Look for the Milky Way during the next several evenings as the moon is in the morning sky. The moon is dim enough to see the galaxy’s faint glow until the phase is a few days before the First Quarter moon phase (September 3). 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.
By an hour after sunset, Saturn is over 10° up in the southeast. An hour later, Jupiter is visible with the Ringed Wonder. At this hour, Saturn is over 20° up in the southeast with Deneb Algedi and Nashira, in eastern Capricornus. The Ringed Wonder is retrograding, the illusion of the planet moving backwards compared to its normal eastward course.
Through a binocular notice that it is 1.5° to the upper right of Nashira and 3.7° to the lower left of Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart). Saturn’s illusion continues into October when it reverses its course, 0.5° from Iota.
Jupiter is low in the east at this hour, over 45° to the lower left of Saturn. The planet parade is slowly moving into the evening sky. Jupiter’s opposition occurs on September 26, when Earth passes between the Giant Planet and the sun. This is followed by Mars’ opposition on December 7. By then Venus moves into the evening sky after its superior conjunction on the far side of the sun. After Mercury’s morning appearance, it moves back to the evening sky for a five-pack of bright planets during late December. The order eastward from the sunset point is Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.
- 2023, October 16: Venus in Starry ConjunctionOctober 16, 2023: Venus passes a star in Leo before sunrise. A crescent moon is low in the western sky during evening twilight.