October 12, 2022: Speedy Mercury continues to shine at its morning best before sunrise. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible with the moon during the overnight hours.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:00 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:14 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY
Mercury shines brightly in the eastern sky at about 45 minutes before sunrise. While the planet is low in the sky, this is its best morning appearance of the year. This is the last morning it rises 90 minutes before sunrise.
It is less than 10° up in the east. It is nearly the same brightness as Mars, although the sun’s nearest neighbor is dimmed somewhat by its low altitude and the blush of morning twilight.
Mercury is easy to spot, although a clear horizon is needed toward the east. A binocular is helpful to initially locate the planet and the star Zavijava – also known as Beta Virginis – 4.5° to the upper right of the planet. The planet is over 14° to the lower right of Denebola, the lion’s tail. The star is about the same brightness as the stars in the Big Dipper that is standing on its handle in the northeast.
The bright moon is in the east at this hour and it is in the same binocular field as the planet Uranus. Look for them anytime during the night. At one hour before sunrise, the lunar orb is less than halfway up in the west and 2.0° above Uranus.
The planet is at the edge of human eyesight, but washed out by the moon’s light. Through the binocular, the planet appears as a bluish star. Once you find the field and the planet, move the binocular slightly so that the moon is out of the view, but the planet remains. Through a binocular this bright moon can leave a temporary after image, like what appears in vision after a camera flash.
Mars and Taurus are to the upper left of the lunar orb. The chart shows more stars than are actually visible because of the moon’s light. They can be seen with the binocular, such as the Pleiades and Hyades. Mars and Aldebaran are bright enough to be seen without the optical assist.
Mars passes between the Bull’s horns – Elnath and Zeta Tauri – on the 17th. It passes Zeta on the 22nd. This morning it is 2.5° to the upper right of the southern horn.
For most purposes, Venus is not visible in the morning sky. It rises only 15 minutes before sunup as it steps toward it solar conjunction, at the far reaches of its orbital path, on the 22nd.
After sunset, bright Jupiter and Saturn are easily visible. As night falls, Jupiter is nearly 20° up in the east-southeast. The planet is in the sky nearly all night. It is in the south about five hours after sunset, around midnight local time. The planet sets in the west over 90 minutes before sunrise, about the time Mercury rises.
Saturn, dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than most stars in tonight’s sky, is to the upper right of Jupiter and about a third of the way up in the south-southeast. The Ringed Wonder is in front of the stars of eastern Capricornus – Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding – an illusion when the planet appears to move backwards compared to the distant stars. This occurs when Earth moves between the planet and the sun. The line of sight from Earth to the planets that are farther from the sun, that normally moves eastward compared to the sidereal background, moves westward. Jupiter retrogrades in front of Pisces’ dim stars until November 24, while Saturn reverses its course in eleven days.
Through a binocular, Saturn can be seen slowly approaching the star Iota Capricorni (ι Cap on the chart). This evening the gap is 0.7° and the planet seems to inch a little closer until it appears to reverse its direction.
By two hours after sundown, the bright gibbous moon, 95% illuminated, is low in the east-northeast. Mars follows the moon across the horizon about two hours later. As the midnight hour approaches, Mars is less than one-third of the way up in the east-northeast, with the moon to its upper right. Jupiter is about halfway up in the south, while Saturn is about 20° up in the southwest.
The three bright outer planets (BOPs) – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are slowly migrating westward with the annual movement of the stars. By year’s end, the BOPs appear with Evening Star Venus and Mercury after sunset.
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