2022, September 23: Mercury’s Inferior Conjunction, Morning Crescent

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September 23, 2022: Mercury is at inferior conjunction, passing between Earth and the sun.  Before sunrise locate the thin crescent moon near Regulus and the Sickle of Leo.

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: Mercury is at inferior conjunction, between Earth and the sun. Then it moves into the morning sky during early October.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:39 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:46 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Mercury passes between Earth and the sun today at 1:50 a.m. CDT, known as inferior conjunction.  Moving faster than Earth, the speedy planet pulls away and appears in the morning sky next month.  It makes its best appearance of the year for four mornings beginning October 8 when it rises 92 minutes before daybreak. 

On October 8th it passes Beta Virginis, also known as Zavijava.

On the chart above, note the location of Venus.  It is moving toward its superior conjunction with the sun next month.  From the view, the planets revolve around the sun in a counterclockwise direction and Earth spins in the same manner.

The blue line from Earth to Venus includes the sun later next month.  Then Venus moves from the morning sky to the evening sky.

Notice the angle made by the red line and the blue line.  This is the angle the Venus appears from the sun today.  This morning it is less than 10°, making Venus rise only 39 minutes before the sun.

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: The crescent moon is near Regulus and the Sickle of Leo before daybreak.

Step outside an hour before daybreak. A thin crescent moon, 6% illuminated, hangs in the eastern sky before sunrise.  Look for about 20° above the eastern horizon.

Photo Caption – 2022, September 23: Crescent moon with Regulus.

The crescent is below the Sickle of Leo – a backwards question-mark shape that resembles a farmer’s cutting tool.  The bright star Regulus is 4.7° to the right of the lunar slice. 

2020, November 13: The crescent moon that is 4% illuminated is in the eastern sky before sunrise.

At this hour note the earthshine on the lunar nightside.  The gentle glow is from reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land.

Photo Caption – 2022, September 23: Crescent moon with earthshine.

The sickle also outlines the Lion’s head.  The haunches are lower in the sky, but the tail, Denebola, is near the horizon.  Next month, we will see the Lion higher in the sky before sunrise.

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: High in the southern sky at an hour before sunup, Mars marches eastward in front of Taurus.

MARS OPPOSITION 2022 SUMMARY

Higher in the southern sky, Mars continues its eastward march with Taurus in the sidereal background. The planet is trekking toward the horns – tipped by Elnath and Zeta Tauri, but its pace is beginning to slow for retrograde to begin at October’s end.

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: Through a binocular Mars is near Iota Tauri (ι Tau).

This morning Mars passes Iota Tauri (ι Tau on the chart).  Use a binocular to note the planet’s location compared to the star as Mars marches away.

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: Before sunrise, Jupiter is low in the west-southwest.

Farther westward, bright Jupiter is low in the west-southwest.  It continues to retrograde as its opposition occurs in three days.  The alignment is similar to the chart above with Mercury’s inferior conjunction.

At Jupiter’s opposition, Earth is between the sun and the planet.  Today, at Mercury’s inferior conjunction, we could state that from Mercury, Earth is at opposition with the sun.

As noted above Venus rises during brighter twilight.  About 25 minutes before sunrise, it is very low in the east while Jupiter is above the horizon in the west.  On October 1, Venus rises as Jupiter sets.  After this date, Jupiter sets before Venus rises.  The Morning Star becomes the Evening Star later in the year and again appears with Jupiter and Saturn.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: As night falls, Jupiter and Saturn are in the eastern sky.

As night falls, bright Jupiter is low in the eastern sky and Saturn is higher in the southeast.  The Ringed Wonder leads the planets westward during the night.  Mars rises later during the night and after midnight the three bright planets dot the sky.

Chart Caption – 2022, September 23: Saturn is in front of the stars of Capricornus, appearing near Deneb Algedi, Nashira, and Iota Capricorni (ι Cap).

For sky watchers who can see a darker sky, Saturn is with Capricornus.  The Sea-Goat pattern resembles the delta shape of a stealth airplane.  Saturn is near Nashira and Deneb Algedi, retrograding toward Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart).

Deneb Algedi is the “kid’s tail,” while Nashira means “the lucky star of the verdant fields at the end of summer.”

Algedi – meaning “the kid” – is in western Capricornus along with Dabih, meaning “the lucky star of the sacrificer.”

Note that Algedi is a double star that is visible to sharp-eyed sky watchers without a binocular, although most of us need the optical assist.  The two stars are not connected, but they are along the same line of sight. The named star is about 100 light years away, while the double, to the upper right, is about six times more distant.

Be sure to look for the three bright planets after midnight as another five-planet parade slowly shifts toward the western evening sky.

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