August 25, 2022: The thin crescent moon is near Venus this morning before daybreak. Venus is joined by Mars and Jupiter in an arc across the morning sky. After sunset, Jupiter and Saturn are in the east.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:09 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:35 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Here is the planet forecast for today:
This morning a whisker-thin crescent moon – only 3% illuminated – is low in the east-northeast, 6.4° to the upper left of brilliant Venus around an hour before sunup.
Use a binocular to spot the lunar crescent with the Beehive star cluster, 5.0° to the upper right of the lunar slice.
Look early to see this scene before the sky brightens too much. This is a balance to see the moon and cluster before the light from the approaching dawn washes it away. The observation is not easy with the brightening twilight and the low altitude of the moon and star cluster. On September 21st, the moon passes the Beehive again, when both are higher in the sky, and the crescent is slightly thicker.
The star cluster is also known as the Manger. Two stars that represent donkeys, one northern and the other southern, Asellus Australis and Asellus Borealis are between the moon and the cluster. Wouldn’t you expect to see some animals around the food box?
The Beehive is like the Pleiades and Hyades clusters in Taurus. A few mornings ago, the moon passed Messier 35 (M35) that is dim to the unaided eye. Unlike M35, the Beehive is one of the closest clusters, at a distance of about 500 light years. The overall cluster appears dimmer than the Pleiades because its stars are about forty times dimmer than the Seven Sisters.
In his telescope, Galileo reported about 40 stars in the cluster. Made possible from photography and larger telescopes, today’s count is nearly ten times the number in that first observation. In a dark sky, away from outdoor lighting, the cluster is easily visible to the unaided eye as a cloud, but stars are easily seen with the binocular assist.
In his Celestial Handbook, Robert Burnham surveyed the history and mythology connected to the cluster. He wrote that the ability to see the cluster was a measure of the sky’s transparency, and when the cluster became invisible from high clouds, stormy weather was approaching. It served as a weather forecaster.
Note that Sirius, low in the east-southeast, is higher in the sky than Venus. Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor, is in the east higher than both Venus and Sirius.
At this hour, Mars is nearly two-thirds of the way up in the southeast. It continues its march through Taurus. It is below the Pleiades, trekking between the Pleiades and Hyades cluster. The Red Planet passes between Alcyone, the brightest Pleiad, and Aldebaran, which is not part of the Hyades, on the 30th.
Through a binocular Mars, the Pleiades and the star 37 Tauri (37 Tau on the chart) appear in the same field of view. The Red Planet passes 2.6° to the lower right of 37 Tauri in two mornings.
Mars’ pace through the starfield is easy to follow. Here is a star map of Taurus to plot the position of the planet compared to the constellation. Chart its place each clear night. This is an exciting, non-technical way to build an observing record with a child.
Farther westward, Jupiter is the third bright morning planet. It is about halfway up in the sky above the southwest horizon. The planet is retrograding in Cetus, soon to move into Pisces.
Saturn is rising before sundown. An hour later it is about 15° up in the southeast. The Ringed Wonder is leaving the morning planet parade. The parade is slowly shifting to the evening sky, with Saturn leading the way, until Venus and Mercury cut in front of it later in the year.
Two hours after sunset, Jupiter rises in the east to join Saturn. Mars follows over two hours later. After midnight, this trio stretches across the sky. By twilight tomorrow morning, Saturn is very low in the west-southwest, hiding in the thick atmosphere, leaving Venus with Mars and Jupiter.
Through a binocular, notice that Saturn is near Deneb Algedi and Nashira. It is slowly retrograding in eastern Capricornus, heading for Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart). Saturn reverses its course and seems to move eastward again when it is 0.5° away from Iota during late October.
The Venus – Saturn opposition, when Saturn formally leaves the western sky as Venus rises, occurs on the 28th.
With Saturn higher in the sky during the evening hours, ask your neighborhood sky watcher to set up their telescope to show you Saturn or explore when a local astronomy club may have a public telescope evening.
- 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.
- 2023, October 16-22: Celestial Events for the WeekOctober 16-22, 2023: The moon returns to the evening sky. Venus steps eastward in front of Leo, and a meteor shower is visible.
- 2023, October 15: Three Bright PlanetsOctober 15, 2023: Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are visible before sunrise. Saturn is above the southeast horizon after sundown.