November 17, 2022: This morning’s crescent appears near the location of the source of the Leonid meteor shower. During the evening Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:43 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:28 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: 7:52 UT, 17:48 UT; Nov. 18, 3:44 UT. Convert the 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:
This morning, the moon, 41% illuminated, is over two-thirds of the way up in the south-southeast at an hour before sunup. Its waning crescent phase is featuring earthshine – reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land – gently illuminating the lunar night. This can be seen through a binocular and recorded with a tripod-mounted camera.
The moon is in front of Leo – a westward facing Lion seen in silhouette. The creature’s head is outlined by a backwards question mark or sickle. The six stars are known as the Sickle of Leo. Blue-white Regulus – meaning “the prince” – is at the bottom the sickle’s handle. The haunches and tail are dotted by three stars. Denebola – the lion’s tail – as at the eastern vertex of the triangle. This morning the moon appears to be in the Lion’s belly.
Regulus is the 22nd brightest star visible from Earth and the 15th brightest that is visible from the mid-northern latitudes. At a distance of nearly 80 light years, its shines with a brightness of nearly 150 suns.
The Leonid meteor shower is in its peak. The shower has a rate of about 20 meteors per hour. Even with this low rate, the American Meteor Society states that this shower has “Very swift meteors, many fireballs, and numerous trains.”
Meteors are dust and tiny fragments that hit our atmosphere and vaporize at altitudes from 50-60 miles above the ground. They originate as components of comets that are released when the sun heats the comets’ icy compositions. The meteoroids spread out roughly along the comets’ trajectories. If these orbital debris trails cross Earth’s orbit we see the vaporizing fragments emerging from a single spot in the sky.
Meteors from a shower can be anywhere in the sky, but more are seen near the radiant, the spot where they seem to emerge. The Leonids are from Comet Tempel-Tuttle and the radiant is near the Sickle of Leo.
The moon’s light may interfere with the dimmer meteors. Ubiquitous outdoor is more of a factor from urban and suburban settings than this morning’s moon.
Some meteors leave a temporary streak of light, a train or trail, that may persist for several seconds or even minutes, showing the meteor’s path.
This shower is known to produce fireballs, bright meteors. The Observer’s Handbook states, “Fireballs are exceptionally bright meteors, [brighter than when Venus is at its brightest], that are spectacular enough to light up a wide area and attract public attention (p. 255).” The author adds that these meteors are at least one centimeter across. Larger objects may fragment and reach the ground.
The reason to note this shower is not the rate – only 20 per hour viewed from a very dark location and with other sky watchers looking toward different directions in the sky – but the likelihood of seeing a fireball. Set an early alarm and look toward Leo’s sickle.
Farther westward, Mars is retrograding in front of Taurus. Find the Red Planet less than halfway up in the sky at this hour. It is the brightest star in the sky at this time.
Tomorrow Mars passes Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn. At month’s end the planet is closest to Earth.
Disregard the Internet memes that show it as large as a full moon. Even at 51 million miles away, the planet still appears as a star to the unaided eye.
Retrograde motion occurs when Earth, on an inside, faster orbital path, moves between the planet and the sun. The line of sight from Earth – that normally moves toward the east against the distant stars – begins to move westward or retrograde. Earth passes between them on December 7th, known as opposition. On this evening the moon covers or occults the planet – an opposition occultation.
An occultation is a type of eclipse, but the moon appears much larger than a more-distant world. The moon blocks out Mars for several minutes. The lunar orb continues its eastward motion and then uncovers the planet.
Precise observations of occultations help with refining the moon’s celestial track. This involves recording the sky watcher’s terrestrial coordinates and the precise times that the planet disappears and then reappears.
Venus and Mercury continue their slow entry into the evening sky. This evening Mercury sets eleven minutes after the sun, followed by Venus 10 minutes later.
Bright Jupiter ends its retrograde motion in a week in front of Pisces’ dim starfield. Find the planet in the southeast as night falls.
The star Deneb Kaitos is below Jupiter, about one-third of the way from the horizon to the planet.
Attempt to locate Neptune in the same binocular field of view with Jupiter. The more-distant world appears as a bluish star through the binocular. Even with a telescope and higher magnifications, the planet’s globe is very small. Neptune is over 2.7 billion miles away.
Saturn is nearly at the south cardinal point an hour after sundown. It slowly moves eastward with the sidereal background of eastern Capricornus, west of Nashira and Deneb Algedi.
The star Fomalhaut is low in the south-southeast as this hour.
Mars rises about two hours after sunset. Two hours later, it is nearly one-third of the way up in the east-northeast. Saturn is about the same altitude – height above the horizon – in the southwest. Bright Jupiter is in the south.
The three bright outer planets are along the plane of the solar system, known as the ecliptic. This display occurs earlier each evening, and noticeably earlier each week.
At 9:44 p.m. CST, Jupiter is less than halfway up in the southwest from Chicago. The Great Red Spot is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. For sky watchers farther westward in North America, the planet is farther eastward and higher in the sky. The spot is visible from Earth two to three times a day where the planet is above the horizon.
By tomorrow morning, Mars is in the west while the crescent moon is farther eastward under the haunches of Leo.
- 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.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.