September 21, 2022: Before daybreak, the thin crescent moon is with the Praesepe, meaning the manger. Notice earthshine in the lunar night.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:37 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:50 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight is shrinking quickly. Its length is 12 hours, 13 minutes today. The equinox occurs tomorrow.
Overnight Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are spread across an arc from the east to the southwest. The best time to see them is five hours before sunrise, about 1:30 a.m. in Chicago. Mars is clear of the eastern horizon and Saturn is still high enough in the western sky to see this triplet.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY
Step outside about 90 minutes before daybreak. Take along a binocular. The thin crescent moon, 19% illuminated, is about one-third of the way up in the east. It is in front of Cancer’s dim stars.
Look at the moon through the binocular and move it slightly to the upper left of center. The Praesepe, meaning “the manger,” is near the center, about 3.5° to the lower right of the lunar crescent. The stellar bundle is also known as the Beehive star cluster. It is in the plane of the Milky Way and similar to the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.
The Beehive is about 500 light years away, but it has dimmer stars than the Pleiades. In a dark location the Beehive can be seen without the aid of a binocular.
Through the binocular, note the two stars Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, two donkeys, one northern and the other southern, eating from the manger.
Whether with unaided vision or through a binocular, note the earthshine glowing in the lunar night. Reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land lights up the moon’s nighttime.
At this hour, Mars is high in the south-southeast, marching eastward in Taurus. It is about midway from the “V” of Taurus, made by Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster, and the Bull’s horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri.
Through a binocular, Mars is approaching Iota Tauri (ι Tau on the chart). The Red Planet passes 0.3° to the upper left of the star in two mornings.
The “V” represents the head of the Bull with Aldebaran dotting one eye. The Pleiades star cluster rides on the animal’s back.
Farther westward, bright Jupiter is less than one-third of the way up in the west-southwest. It is retrograding in Pisces near the border of Cetus. The sea monster’s tail – Deneb Kaitos – is to the planet’s lower left.
Jupiter is less than a week away from its opposition when it is closest to Earth and at its brightest in the night sky. The planet rises at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise.
Jupiter is the brightest star in the sky until Venus rises 43 minutes before daybreak. Fifteen minutes later, the Morning Star is only 3° up in the east while Jupiter is about 10° above the western horizon.
On October 1st, Jupiter sets as Venus rises. The two planets are in opposite directions – a planet -to-planet opposition. After this date, Venus rises after Jupiter sets.
As Venus slips into brighter twilight, it passes behind the sun in about a month and slowly appears in the western sky after sundown where it rejoins Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars later in the year. Venus passes Jupiter on March 1, 2023, in a fairly close conjunction.
For the current apparition, there is no last call date to see them together in the sky, unlike dimmer Saturn that faded into the thickness of the atmosphere before its opposition with Venus. The limitation to the last visible date is the availability of clear horizons to see Venus and Jupiter. Both can be seen when they are close to the horizon.
An hour after sundown, bright Jupiter begins the evening low in the eastern sky. Saturn is higher in the southeast, near Deneb Algedi and Nashira, in eastern Capricornus.
The Ringed Wonder is retrograding for about another month. It is noticeably west of the two named stars.
Through a binocular, watch it widen a gap with Nashira and close in on Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart).
Mars rises about three hours after sunset, placing three bright planets in the sky together overnight.
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