2022, October 11: Mercury’s Morning Residency, Moon-Uranus Conjunction

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October 11, 2022: Mercury shines brightly in the eastern sky, marking its best morning appearance for the year.  The moon is with the planet Uranus in the same binocular field of view tonight.

Chart Caption – 2022, October 11: Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Mercury is about 10° up in the east.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:59 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:16 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY

Mercury’s morning residency continues in the eastern sky before sunrise.  At forty-five minutes before sunup, the bright planet is nearly 10° above the horizon.  A few days after its greatest separation (elongation) from the sun, the speedy planet rises more than 90 minutes before sunrise.  These early-rising mornings are soon to end as the planet rounds the outer reaches of its orbit and heads toward brighter morning twilight.

Mercury is bright, nearly equal to Mars intensity, but less than Sirius’ brightness.  Mercury’s gleam is diminished somewhat by its low altitude – height above the horizon – and the blush of morning twilight.

The star Zavijava, also known as Beta Virginis, is 3.3° to the upper right of Mercury.  A binocular is needed to locate it with the planet.

Each morning, the stars are slightly higher in the sky at the same time interval before sunrise, but Mercury is moving eastward compared to the stars and toward its solar conjunction on November 8th.  The stellar westward migration is from Earth’s revolution around the sun, and this is reflected in the seasonal locations of the stars.

This morning the bright moon is in the western sky.  Its intensity washes out the dim stars and the moonlight gently illuminates the ground, easily casting shadows.  This effect is similar to what we observe when the moon is at its crescent phases – earthshine, from reflected sunlight lighting up the lunar night.  This morning from the moon, Earth is a thin crescent, less than 5% illuminated.

Chart Caption – 2022, October 11: Mars is with Taurus, high in the southwest before daybreak.

MARS OPPOSITION 2022 SUMMARY

About 15 minutes earlier than Mercury’s observation with less morning twilight, Mars is high in the southwest with Taurus.  It nears the Bull’s southern horn, Zeta Tauri.  The planet seems to be slowing is eastward march.  On the 30th, Mars reverses its apparent eastward motion and it seems to begin to move westward.

2022-2023: The orbits of Earth and Mars, showing the sight lines for important dates.

Retrograde motion is an optical illusion from Earth catching up and passing the slower-moving Mars.  On the chart above, as seen from north of the solar system, in a hypothetical view, Earth in blue is closer to the sun than Mars on the red orbit.  An arrow connects the two planets on the same dates, when conjunctions and other events occur. The arrows point to the distant starfield. As the planets move counterclockwise on the chart, the arrows seem to rotate counterclockwise (or eastward) as well. Mars moves eastward against the starfield.

During October, the arrows are nearly parallel, indicating Mars is not moving eastward as quickly.  This occurs near the Bull’s horns.  After October, the line-of-sight arrows rotate in the clockwise (or westward direction) until mid-January 2023.  Mars seems to move westward compared to the starfield, but it continues to move in the counterclockwise direction around the sun. Afterward, the arrows begin to rotate counterclockwise or eastward again as Earth moves away from Mars. Mars resumes eastward direction compared to Taurus.  This is the reason for the illusion of retrograde motion for the planets farther away from the sun than Earth.

Mars moves between the Bull’s horns on the 17th and past Zeta Tauri on the 22nd.

Venus is bathed in bright twilight.  It rises only eighteen minutes before sunrise.  Soon it passes behind the sun and becomes the Evening Star.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, October 11: Jupiter and Saturn are in the eastern sky after sunset.

An hour after sunset, bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the eastern sky.  The moon is not in the sky at this hour, but it rises soon.  Jupiter is about 20° up in the east-southeast.  It is the brightest star in the sky.

Chart Caption – 2022, October 11: Saturn approaches Iota Capricorni (ι Cap) as its retrograde nears its conclusion.

Saturn, considerably dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than most of the stars, is nearly one-third of the way up in the south-southeast.  It is retrograding compared to the stars in eastern Capricornus.  Before the moon enters the sky and washes out the dimmer stars, look at Saturn with a binocular. The Ringed Wonder is noticeably west of Deneb Algedi and Nashira and approaching Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart). This evening it is 0.7° from Iota.  The gap closes to about 0.5° when Saturn’s retrograde ends on the 23rd.

Chart Caption – 2022, October 11: The bright gibbous moon is in the same binocular field with Uranus all night.

The bright moon rises about 80 minutes after sundown.  By four hours after sunset, it is high enough to look for the planet Uranus.  With the moon 94% illuminated, this view is somewhat challenging because through a binocular, the moonlight is likely to leave a temporary afterimage in your vision, like that from a camera flash. 

Uranus is the bluish star 1.1° to the lower left of the lunar orb.  Once you locate the planet, move the binocular slightly so that the moon is outside the field of view, leaving Uranus near the edge.  The binocular does not have enough magnification to see the planet’s globe.

The moon occults or covers the planet as seen from northern North America and Greenland.

In another hour when Mars is higher in the eastern sky, it joins the moon, Jupiter, Saturn along an imaginary arc stretching across the sky.  This is the plane of the solar system – the ecliptic. 

If you miss the moon with Uranus, both are in the same binocular field in the morning.

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