November 24, 2022: Jupiter’s retrograde ends today in front of a dim Pisces starfield. During the evening, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn appear along an arc from east-northeast to southwest.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:51 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: 8:39 UT, 18:35 UT; Nov. 25, 4:31 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 0.549 AU away. This evening, about four hours after sundown, the separation is 0.548 AU.
Jupiter’s retrograde ends today. The planet is visible during the evening and early morning hours.
Retrograde is an illusion from the faster-moving Earth moving between the sun and a more distant planet. As viewed from a spot north of the solar system, the bodies generally revolve counterclockwise. From Earth as the planets revolve, the line of sight to the outer planets moves toward the east. As Earth moves between the planets and the sun, the line of sight shifts westward compared to the starfield. The planets seem to backup or retrograde as Earth moves by. After a time, the line of sight shifts eastward again and the planets seem to move eastward compared to the stars.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Bright Mars is in the western sky before sunrise. Look for it about one-third of the way up in the sky. It is retrograding – moving westward compared to the distant stars – below (west of) the Bull’s horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. It is 4.1° to the lower left of Elnath – the northern horn.
In less than a week, Earth and Mars are closest for this Martian appearance. Even at its closest, it appears as a bright star, slightly brighter than Sirius. Notice two reddish stars, Betelgeuse and Aldebaran, that are below Mars.
Mars orbital path around the sun is not a circle, but an ellipse. Depending on its location at a time when Earth passes by, the separation is sometimes closer than others. At this closest approach, the gap is over 40% larger than when Earth passed in 2018.
Earth passes Mars about every 25 months. The next time Earth and Mars are closer than this closest approach is July 5, 2033, the fifth passing from this year’s least-distance event.
Through a telescope, Mars appears as a red-ochre globe, likely smaller than would be anticipated. The planet’s diameter is about half Earth’s size.
Venus and Mercury are slowly emerging from bright evening twilight. Mercury passed Venus recently, but in the glare of early twilight. Even though Mercury is east of Venus, it is farther southward and sets before the sun’s second planet.
This evening Mercury sets twenty-two minutes after sundown. Venus follows four minutes later.
As night falls, bright Jupiter appears first. It is the brightest “star” until Venus appears in several days. Jupiter is “that bright star” in the southeast as night falls. Venus catches and passes the Jovian Giant on March 1, 2023, in a close conjunction.
With its retrograde ending as described earlier, Jupiter’s eastward trek increases slowly at first in front of a dim Pisces starfield. It moves only 1.0° eastward – about two full moon diameters – through December 18th.
For now, Jupiter and Neptune are in the same binocular field of view. This dual-planet-view continues for several nights, but it becomes more difficult as Jupiter treks eastward.
Saturn, dimmer than Jupiter, is about one-third of the way up in the south and slightly west of the south cardinal point. It is slowly moving east, 2.9° to the right (west of) Nashira, a star in Capricornus. Saturn is normally slower than Jupiter, but currently the Ringed Wonder moves 1.7° eastward during the same interval mentioned for Jupiter to move 1.0°. After the line of sight to Jupiter swings faster eastward, Jupiter’s speed overtakes Saturn.
Mars rises 50 minutes after sundown, rising earlier each evening. On opposition evening, December 7th, it rises at sundown.
During the evening, the three bright outer planets appear farther westward. By three hours after sundown, bright Jupiter is about halfway up in the south. Mars and Saturn are about 20° above the horizon – Saturn in the southwest, Mars in the east-northeast.
Like Mars rising earlier each evening, the three planets are in this planetary arc earlier each evening as well. By year’s end, Venus and Mercury join this display, again in a five-planet configuration.
At 10:31 p.m. CST (Nov. 25, 4:31 UT), the Great Red Spot is visible through a telescope in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere in the center of the planet. From Chicago, the planet is about one-third of the way up in the southwest. Sky watchers farther westward see the planet higher in the sky.
Saturn and Jupiter set during the night leaving Mars in the west before sunrise. Tomorrow evening a very thin crescent moon is visible in the western sky during brighter twilight.