November 23, 2022: The constellation Hydra slithers across the morning sky. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are hung across the sky during evening hours.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:50 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:24 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: 2:52 UT, 12:48 UT, 22:44 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.
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 0.550 AU away. This evening, about four hours after sundown, the separation is 0.549 AU.
The moon is New at 4:57 p.m. CST.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Bright Mars is the lone bright planet in the sky before sunrise. One hour before sunup, find it about one-third of the way up in the western sky. The planet is retrograding in front of Taurus, below (west of) an imaginary line that connects the Bull’s horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. Its westward direction is noticeable and it is easy to see the difference each clear morning or each evening.
The planet is a week away from its closest approach to Earth. As noted above the planet is 0.544 astronomical units away or about 51 million miles away. Even at this distance the planet resembles a bright star. A telescope is needed to see the planet’s seemingly miniature globe.
Mars is the brighter than Sirius, the night’s brightest star, and two reddish stars – Betelgeuse and Aldebaran – that are nearby.
Mars is at opposition on December 7th. On that evening the moon covers or occults the planet.
At this hour this morning without the moon in the sky, dim Hydra stretches across the morning sky. Its head is nearly between Regulus, from Leo, and Procyon, part of Canis Minor, the Little Dog. The body zig-zags toward the southeast. The snake is dim and a challenge to see from urban and suburban locations without a binocular’s assistance.
Alphard – meaning “the solitary star of the serpent” – stands over one-third of the way up in the south-southwest. The star is slightly brighter than those in the Big Dipper and distinctly reddish in color.
Hydra’s brightest star is 180 light years and shines with a brightness of nearly 400 suns. It is about 25 times the sun’s diameter, meaning an empty Alphard could hold over 15,000 suns.
The snake’s body goes below Crater, the Cup, and Corvus, the Raven. Both are on its back. The tip of the tail is still below the horizon.
In short, the mythology around the constellation describes a scene where Apollo asks a raven to fetch water from a well with a cup. The bird was tempted to eat figs on a nearby tree. Upon a late return with the water for Apollo, the raven carried a water snake in its claws, complaining that the snake delayed the return. Apollo then placed the water snake, raven, and cup in the sky. The snake keeps the raven from drinking from the cup.
At forty-five minutes before sunup, Vega is low in the northeast, making its first morning or heliacal rising, of the year. The date depends on local weather and sky transparency factors. Find a clear horizon looking toward that direction. The star is far enough north that it still appears in the western evening sky when it makes its first morning appearance.
Topaz Arcturus, to Vega’s upper right, is about one-third of the way up in the eastern sky. This star first appeared in the morning sky around October 17th.
Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern half of the sky; that is, north of the celestial equator – an imaginary circle in the sky above Earth’s equator. Vega is the second brightest star in this half of the sky.
Venus and Mercury continue their slow entry into the evening sky. They set during bright twilight. Mercury passed Venus yesterday, but it is south of the sun’s second planet, setting twenty-one minutes after the sun, while Venus sets five minutes later.
Jupiter and Saturn are slowly migrating westward as our planet revolves around the sun. Each evening the stars and planets are farther westward. Saturn is slightly west of the south cardinal point, about one third of the way up in the south.
The Ringed Wonder is slowly moving eastward, toward Nashira and Deneb Algedi. Use a binocular to find the two stars.
The Jovian Giant is “that bright star” in the southeast as night falls. Jupiter’s retrograde ends tomorrow in front of a dim Pisces starfield. The gap to Saturn is 39.3°. After tomorrow, the gap opens. Recall that Jupiter passed Saturn two years ago. They do not appear together again until 2040.
From Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is visible at 4:44 p.m. CST, during bright twilight, in Chicago. A telescope is needed, but the bright light interferes with the observation. Sky watchers farther eastward can see the planet higher and in a darker sky.
Mars rises fifty-six minutes after sunset. About three hours after sundown, Mars is high enough in the east-southeast and Saturn is still visible in the southwest. Jupiter is about halfway up in the south. The three bright planets seem to hang along the arc of the ecliptic – the solar system’s plane.
During the night, the stars and planets seem to move westward from Earth’s rotation. Saturn sets, followed by Jupiter. By tomorrow morning, Mars is again the lone bright planet in the western sky.
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- 2023, October 15: Three Bright PlanetsOctober 15, 2023: Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are visible before sunrise. Saturn is above the southeast horizon after sundown.
- 2023, October 14: Solar Eclipse, Morning PlanetsOctober 14, 2023: A solar eclipse is visible across the western hemisphere. Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are visible before sunrise.
- 2023, October 13: Moon’s Last Glimpse, Bright Morning PlanetsOctober 13, 2023: Before tomorrow’s eclipse, see a razor-thin moon before sunrise. Venus and Jupiter shine brightly during morning twilight.