October 6, 2022: Mercury is making its best morning appearance of the year. Mars marches eastward with Taurus. The gibbous moon is between Jupiter and Saturn.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:53 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:24 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Mars, approaching the brightness of Sirius, is high in the southern sky about an hour before sunrise. The planet continues its eastward march through Taurus, near the horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. The Red planet passes Elnath on October 10th and Zeta Tauri on the 22nd. It passes between the horns on the 17th. After retrograde begins on the 30th, the events are reversed. The second Zeta Tauri conjunction is on November 7th, followed by a second passing between the horns on the 13th. The second conjunction with Elnath follows on the 18th.
This morning look at Mars through a binocular. It is in the same field of view as Zeta Tauri and the Crab Nebula (M1 on the chart).
The Crab Nebula is the remains of an exploded star that appeared brightly in the skies of Earth for about two years beginning in 1054. Through the binocular, it is a dim and oval shaped. It might be impossible to see in some urban and suburban settings because of the outdoor lighting that shines into the sky. The background sky may be brighter than the nebula.
The Crab Nebula is the first entry on a list of over 100 celestial objects that are fuzzy and initially thought to be comets. The 18th Century comet hunter Charles Messier made the list that is a popular set of targets for sky watchers with modest telescopes. The Crab Nebula is known as Messier 1 or simply M1. In another catalog of more fuzzy-looking celestial wonders, known as the New General Catalog, it is number 1952 or NGC 1952. This list has nearly 8,000 galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae.
Move the binocular slightly to include Elnath with Mars and M1. Zeta Tauri does not fit in the field with Elnath. This second view is a tight fit for all three objects – Elnath, the planet, and the Crab.
Jupiter, at this hour, is very low in the west. Technically, it is visible, immediately above the horizon. For our purposes, we say “good-bye” to the Jovian Giant at this hour.
Mercury is making its best morning appearance of the year. At an hour before sunrise, it is about 5° above the horizon. Wait another 15 minutes. The planet is higher and the sky is slightly brighter.
By 45 minutes before sunup, Mercury – brighter than Betelgeuse and Rigel in Orion – is nearly 8° up in the east. It is 11.8° to the lower right of Denebola – the lion’s tail – and over 25° to the lower left of Regulus – the lion’s heart. The speedy planet is 1.9° to the upper right of Zavijava – also known as Beta Virginis. A binocular may be needed to initially see the star. Zavijava means “the corner of the barking dog,” according to George A. Davis.
Mercury is approaching its greatest separation from the sun for earth-bound sky watchers, but it is nearing its perihelion – closest point to the sun. The planet never wanders far from the central star. During autumn in the northern hemisphere, the plane of the solar system makes a sharp angle with the eastern horizon. Even though its only 18° from the sun in two mornings, it puts on its best morning show of the year.
Mercury’s greatest elongation can reach 27°. That occurred during the planet’s August apparition, but the solar system was poorly inclined with the western horizon after sunset. For northern hemisphere sky watchers, the planet’s appearance was challenging.
For the current apparition, Mercury rises only about 10° above the horizon at best at 45 minutes before sunrise – at about mid-twilight. For southern hemisphere sky watchers, the planet rises about 30 minutes before sunrise and appears over 5° above the horizon at sunrise, hardly visible under conventional means with a binocular.
Venus continues its slide into bright twilight. It rises only 23 minutes before sunup. It can be seen during the daytime and near the horizon. For those sky watchers seeking to track the planet as long as possible before its superior conjunction later this month, find it 2° above the eastern horizon, 10 minutes before sunup. An unobstructed horizon, a cloudless sky, and a binocular are needed to spot the Morning Star.
The bright gibbous moon, 90% illuminated, is low in the southeast as night falls. The lunar orb is 25° from bright Jupiter, 15° up in the east-southeast at one hour after sunset. The moon is between Jupiter and Saturn that is nearly 19° to the upper right of the gibbous moon.
Jupiter is retrograding in Pisces, while Saturn retrogrades in eastern Capricornus. Earth passed Jupiter last month and Saturn during August. As our world moves away from them, their retrogrades end soon, Saturn later this month and Jupiter on November 24th. They resume their eastward motion.
Saturn continues to lead the bright planet parade eastward. Mars rises in the east-northeast over three hours after sunset. Around midnight, bright Jupiter is high in the south, Mars low in the east, and Saturn in the southwest.
These bright outer planets (the BOPs) appear farther west each week. By year’s end, Mars is above the eastern horizon after sunset. The BOPs are joined by Venus and Mercury for another five-planet display.
November 3, 2022: Before daybreak, Mars is high in the western sky above the Bull’s horns. After sundown, the gibbous moon is between Jupiter and Saturn.Keep reading
November 2, 2022: Spica is making its heliacal rising – its first morning appearance before sunrise in the east-southeast. After sundown, the gibbous moon nears Jupiter.Keep reading
November 1, 2022: Before sunrise, bright Mars is high in the southwest above the Bull’s horns – Elnath and Zeta Tauri. During the evening, the slightly gibbous moon is near Saturn.Keep reading