November 11, 2022: A rare grouping of Mars, the moon, and Elnath, the northern horn of Taurus, occurs this morning. Overnight, the bright outer planets are on exhibition.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:35 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:34 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 2:57 UT, 12:52, 22:48. Convert time to your time zone. In the US, subtract five hours for EST, six hours for CST, and so on. Use a telescope to see the spot.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Step outside about an hour before sunrise. The gibbous moon, 91% illuminated, is about halfway up in the west. It is very close to Mars, now rivaling Sirius’ brightness. The lunar orb is 2.6° to the right of the Red Planet and 2.3° to the lower left of Elnath – the Bull’s northern horn. All three easily fit into a binocular’s field of view.
This bunching of these three celestial wonders is a rare occurrence, especially when they appear in the same binocular field of view. While the next time these three fit into the same binocular field in the Americas is February 27, 2023, the bundle is an uncommon occurrence.
Mars is in the same region as Elnath nearly every two years. The moon passes through every month, but sometimes it is outside a binocular field when in the star’s region. Then the three are not grouped together in a binocular field of view in the Americas until September 11, 2039!
The moon’s orbit is tilted about 5° with the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system referenced to Earth’s orbit. The moon’s orbit intersects with the ecliptic in two places, known as nodes, that slowly slide along the ecliptic. This confounds the bundle of Mars, Moon, and Elnath, because when the lunar orb passes near the horns, it might be too far away from Elnath to fit into the same field of view with the star, let alone having Mars there as well.
The moon returns to the same spot in the sky about every 19 years. While the three are grouped together as seen from Asia in 2024 and 2026, they do not converge in the Americas again until 2039, after the 2023 grouping.
Venus and Mercury continue to creep into the evening sky. Mercury sets only two minutes after sundown, while Venus follows thirteen minutes later.
Bright Jupiter continues to gleam in the southeast after sunset. Its retrograde begins to slow in front of a dim Pisces’ starfield. The planet reverses its direction later this month.
(As an aside, Jupiter’s Red Spot is in mid-planet at 4:48 p.m. CST. In mid-America, this is during bright twilight and the planet is low in the sky, poor observing conditions for Red Spot viewing. Farther eastward, the planet is higher in a darker sky.)
Jupiter is about one-third of the way up in the southeast at one hour after sundown. Notice the star Deneb Kaitos – the tail of the sea monster – below the planet, about one-third of the way from the horizon to Jupiter.
As this hour, Saturn – noticeably dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than many other stars – is in the south, but still east of the south cardinal point. It moves slowly eastward near Deneb Algedi and Nashira, in eastern Capricornus.
The star Fomalhaut, meaning “the mouth of the southern fish,” is nearly 15° up in the south-southeast, to the lower left of Saturn.
Mars rises about two hours after sundown, and two hours later there’s an exhibition of the three bright outer planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. (This may seem to be late, but with earlier sunsets, this is around 8:30 p.m. CST in Chicago. Check your local sunset time and add four hours to see the planets.) Each week this exhibition occurs earlier in the evening. By late December, Mercury and Venus join the display after sundown.
Tonight, Jupiter is about halfway up in the southern sky at the best hour. Mars and Saturn are about the same altitude – height above the horizon, Mars in the eastern sky and Saturn in the southwest. The gibbous moon, 87% illuminated, is nearly 8° to the lower left of the Red Planet, moving a noticeable distance from this morning’s grouping.
Mars is retrograding, moving between the horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri, in two nights and passing Elnath on the 18th. Watch the planet accelerate westward as our world catches up and passes between Mars and the sun on December 7th. Earth and Mars are closest on November 30th.
During the night, the planetary exhibition appears farther west. Saturn sets, followed by Jupiter. By tomorrow morning, Mars is again in the west, with the gibbous moon to its upper left.
- 2023, October 24: Venus, Jupiter, Bookend Bright OrionOctober 24, 2023: Morning planets Venus and Jupiter bookend many bright stars, including Orion. The moon is near Saturn during the evening.
- 2023, October 23: Venus at Greatest ElongationOctober 23, 2023: Venus moves to its farthest angular distance from the sun today, known as greatest elongation. During morning twilight, the Morning Star passes Leo’s Chertan.
- 2023, October 22: Moon Approaches SaturnOctober 22, 2023: During evening hours, the gibbous moon nears Saturn in the southern sky. Venus and Jupiter are visible during morning twilight.
- 2023, October 21: Three Bright Planets, First Quarter MoonOctober 21, 2023: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to locate during nighttime hours. The First Quarter moon phase occurs this evening.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.