October 20, 2022: The moon covers or occults Eta Leonis in the eastern sky before sunrise. In addition to Jupiter and Saturn, the Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – stands overhead.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:09 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:01 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Step outside about an hour before daybreak, the crescent moon, 24% illuminated, is about halfway up in the east. The lunar crescent is just above the Sickle of Leo, a backwards question-mark-shape that makes the head of Leo. Bright Regulus – meaning “the prince” – is at the bottom of the shape, dotting the animal’s heart. The crescent is 0.3° above the star Eta Leonis (η Leo on the chart.) From the eastern U.S. the moon is about to block or occult the star.
An occultation is a type of eclipse when the moon blocks a planet or a star. The moon moves eastward and then uncovers the star. This event is easily observed with a binocular or telescope, although the star’s reappearance occurs after sunup in the bright morning light for some North American sky watchers.
From Chicago, the moon inches in front of the star at about 6:18 a.m. CDT. From points farther westward, this occurs in a darker sky. From Omaha, the event begins nearly 10 minutes earlier. From Denver the star disappears at 4:58 a.m. MDT. For other locations in North America, see this link.
From Chicago, the star reappears at 7:41 a.m., over 30 minutes after sunrise. The reappearance is not visible from the Second City because of the bright sky. From Denver, the star reappears at 6:14 a.m. MDT.
The moon displays a grand exhibition of earthshine, reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land illuminates the lunar night. This effect is nicely seen through the spotting scope or binocular that is being used to observe the occultation.
Farther westward at this hour, Mars is high in the southwest, east of and above the horns of the Bull – Elnath and Zeta Tauri. The planet begins to retrograde on the 30th and passes between the horns next month.
Mercury is leaving the morning sky after its best morning appearance of the year. At forty minutes before sunup, the planet – brighter than Mars – is 5° up in the east. The brightest star in the northern half of the sky – Arcturus – is about the same altitude as Mercury in the east-northeast. This star is making its first morning appearance, while appearing in the west after sunset.
In two days, Venus passes on the far side of the sun in its heliocentric orbit and slowly begins to climb into the western evening sky as the Evening Star.
Jupiter is that “bright star” in the east-southeast as night falls. It is retrograding in front of Pisces’ dim stars. The planet is the brightest star in the sky this evening.
Saturn is about one-third of the way up in the south. Its retrograde slows west of Deneb Algedi and Nashira. The planet seems to reverse direction in three days.
While looking for the planets, look high in the sky toward overhead. The Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – is there.
Deneb is highest in the sky at this hour. It marks the tail of Cygnus the Swan, which seems to be flying southward. The pattern is also known as the Northern Cross.
Deneb is one of the most luminous stars in our stellar neighborhood. At a distance of about 1,500 light years, it is the fourteenth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes. The Hen’s Tail shines with a brightness of nearly 50,000 suns!
During the night Saturn leads a planet parade westward that includes the bright planets Jupiter and Mars and dim Uranus and Neptune. Saturn passes above the south point nearly 2.5 hours after sunset. Jupiter follows five hours after sunset and before midnight. At that time, Mars is about 20° up in the east-northeast and Saturn is about the same altitude – height above the horizon in the southwest. The bright outer planets are strung along an arc across the sky.
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