November 20, 2022: Before sunrise, the crescent moon is in the southeast above Virgo’s brightest star Spica. Mars is closest to Earth in ten nights. The countdown begins.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:46 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:26 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: 5:22 UT, 15:18 UT; Nov. 21, 1:14 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.
Mars watch: Mars is closest at 8:16 p.m. CST on November 30 (2:16 UT, December 1). The distance is 0.544 Astronomical Unit, also known as an AU, where one AU is about 93,000,000 miles. Before sunrise, the planet is 0.555 AU away. This evening, about four hours after sundown, the separation is 0.554 AU.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
An hour before sunup, a very thin crescent moon, 14% illuminated, is less than one-third of the way up in the southeast. It is 3.8° to the lower left of Porrima – also known as Gamma Virginis – and nearly 11° to the upper right of sapphire Spica – meaning “the ear of corn.”
Look for earthshine on the night portion of the moon from reflected sunlight from Earth’s features.
At this hour, Mars is less than one-third of the way up in the western sky. It is marching westward – retrograde – against Taurus. It is below the horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. As noted above, Earth is closing in on Mars and the two are closest on November 30th.
Mars continues to retrograde through its opposition on December 7th until January 12, 2023. Retrograde is an illusion from Earth overtaking and passing Mars.
During the next several oppositions of Mars, the closest approaches are getting farther away. Mars is over 40% farther away than it was when the planet was near its closest to the sun – a so-called perihelic opposition – in 2018. Consequently, the planet is proportionately smaller through a telescopic eyepiece. While the planet is not as large through a telescope as you might think, it’s time to convince your neighborhood sky watcher to set up their telescope to show you Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, while the Red Planet is near its closest to Earth. You get a clearer look at Mars when it is higher in the sky later during the evening.
Venus and Mercury are slowly entering the evening sky. Speedy Mercury is beginning to catch Venus. It sets sixteen minutes after sundown, while Venus follows seven minutes later.
As the sky darkens after sundown, bright Jupiter is over one-third of the way up in the southeast. It is nearing the end of its retrograde in front of a dim Pisces starfield.
Saturn is southward, moving eastward in Capricornus near Deneb Algedi and Nashira.
At 7:14 p.m., when Jupiter is nearing its highest point in the south, the Great Red Spot is in the southern hemisphere near the center of the planet. A telescope is needed to see the long-lived “storm.”
Mars rises over an hour after sunset. By 3.5 hours after sundown, the three bright planets are again hanging across the sky from east-northeast to southwest. Mars and Saturn are about the same altitude in the extreme directions, while Jupiter is about halfway up in the south.
Tomorrow morning, Mars is again in the western sky, while a very thin crescent moon is low in the east-southeast to the lower left of Spica.
December 31, 2022: Mercury begins to depart the evening sky, leaving four bright planets – Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars on display for New Year’s Eve.Keep reading
December 30, 2022: The night’s brightest star, Sirius, is in the south at midnight as the year ends. The bright planet evening display continues as Mercury disappears into bright twilight.Keep reading
December 29, 2022: The evening planet display is ending as Mercury begins to retrograde and fade in brightness. Look for Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Moon, and Mars after sundown.Keep reading