September 16, 2022: During the nighttime hours, Mars, the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are strung across the sky. Before daybreak, look for the gibbous moon between Mars and the Pleiades star cluster.
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by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:32 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:58 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
As the planet parade, consisting of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, moves toward an evening sky display, the trio stretches across the sky about five hours before sunrise, that’s about 1:30 a.m. CDT in Chicago.
First look for the moon. It is 65% illuminated and less than halfway up in the east. Mars is the bright star to the lower left of the lunar orb.
Farther westward, Jupiter is brighter than Mars, over halfway up in the south.
At this early hour, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. A telescope is needed to see this long-lived storm. It is visible for about 50 minutes before and after the central passing across the planet.
Saturn is low in the southwest, less than half the altitude – the height above the horizon – of Jupiter.
These giant planets are retrograding, an illusion that the planets are moving westward compared to the stars. The middle of this effect occurs when Earth passes between the respective planet and the sun. For Saturn, this occurred about a month ago, Jupiter, September 26th.
Venus rises much later, but is moving toward the evening sky. Later in the year, Venus moves to the head of the line, after passing behind the sun during October, to appear as the Evening Star in the western sky after sundown.
By an hour before sunrise, look for the moon again high in the south. It is between Mars and the Pleiades, 7.5° to the upper right of the Red Planet. Unlike last month, when the moon passed through this part of the sky, the three celestial wonders are not in a binocular’s single field of view. With the moon’s brightness, a binocular is helpful to see the Pleiades, 7.3° to the upper right of the gibbous moon.
Each month as the moon moves through this region, its phase is larger than the previous month, until opposition, December 7. On that evening, the Full moon covers or occults Mars for North American sky watchers. During the new year, the phase is thinner, until an evening crescent moon appears with Mars in the western sky during mid-August. At that time, Mars is sliding toward its conjunction with the sun.
At this hour, Jupiter is low in the west-southwest, still the brightest star in the sky.
Venus rises 50 minutes before daybreak. Twenty minutes later it is low in the east-northeast. Then Jupiter is lower in the west-southwest. The Venus-to-Jupiter gap is nearly 160°.
On October 1, Jupiter sets as Venus rises, a Venus-Jupiter opposition. After that date, Jupiter sets before Venus rises leaving either planet with Mars during early morning hours.
This occurred with Venus and Saturn nearly three weeks ago. Saturn sets nearly an hour before Venus peeks above the horizon.
These planet-planet oppositions indicate the superior planets – Jupiter and Saturn – are appearing earlier in the evening sky, while Venus is closing in on its solar conjunction.
After sundown, the late-night planet display starts. One hour after sunset, Jupiter is low in the east, while Saturn is less than one-third of the way up in the southeast. Mars and the moon rise about 2.5 hours after sunset. After midnight, the three bright planets, with the moon near Mars, are along an arc across the sky.
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