November 26, 2022: Earth and Mars are closest for this Martian apparition on November 30. The three bright outer planet – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible during the evening.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:53 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:22 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: 0:22 UT, 10:18 UT, 20:14 UT; Nov. 27, 6:10 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. The planet is 0.546 AU away today.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
An hour before sunrise, Mars is in the western sky, retrograding against a bright starfield in Taurus. The planet is less than 30° up in the west and 4.3° to the lower left of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn. The planet is quickly approaching its opposition when it sets at sunrise.
Earth is closing in on Mars for their closest approach on the 30th. This occurs before opposition on December 7th because the planet continues to move toward its aphelion – farthest point from the sun.
This apparition’s shortest distance is over 40% farther away than when the minimum distance occurred when Mars was near its perihelion – closest point to the sun – a so-called perihelic opposition. Mars moons were first observed during a perihelic opposition in 1877. During the 1894 close opposition, Percival Lowell made his first observations of Martian “canals,” now known to be illusions.
After this year’s closest approach, the next two approaches when Mars is closer to its aphelion. On January 12, 2025, Mars is 18% farther away than this year’s closest approach. During the February 20, 2027, approach, the Red Planet is 24% farther away than this year’s distance and 84% farther away than the close 2018 distance.
After the far away 2027 distance, Mars is at its aphelic opposition every 13-15 years. Future separations are nearly as far away as this distance. Astronomer Jean Meeus’ calculations indicate that the Earth-Mars separation grows larger than the 2027 minimum distance when Earth passes by in 2390, 0.67803 astronomical units.
Through a telescope, Mars is a red-ochre globe. It is tinier than might be expected, since it is the second closest planet to Earth, after Venus and only half Earth’s size. View the planet for long periods, not just a quick glance of a second or two. Allow your eye to adjust it the planet’s brightness and look around the globe. Depending on the time of night, various features appear in the center of the planet.
Winter began in the northern hemisphere on July 21st and ends December 26th. The northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, but since it’s winter, it is large. The southern cap is reduced by the Martian summer there. Both might be hiding in clouds, known as the polar hoods.
Venus and Mercury continue their seemingly slow emergence from bright twilight after their superior conjunctions. Mercury sets twenty-seven minutes after sundown, while Venus sets only two minutes later. Interestingly, Mercury is farther away from the sun than Venus, but it sets earlier. This is from Mercury’s location that is farther southward or below the ecliptic. In the northern hemisphere when one object (Mercury) is farther south of the second object (Venus), the first sets before the other object.
About an hour after sundown, the crescent moon, 12% illuminated, is about 10° up in the southwest. For the next few evenings look for earthshine on the moon’s night portion. This effect – reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans – can be seen nicely through a binocular and photographed with a tripod-mounted camera and exposures lasting several seconds.
This evening, the moon sets about 2.5 hours after sundown.
An hour after sundown, Saturn is about one-third of the way up in the southern sky. It is slowly moving eastward compared to the stars in eastern Capricornus. During the next few evenings, watch the moon get closer to the Ringed Wonder. They are closest on the evening of the 28th.
Jupiter is “that bright star” in the southeast as the sky darkens. It is the brightest star in the sky, although it shines by reflected sunlight. The word “planet” is tied to the Greek term (πλανη ́της) “planete,” meaning wandering star. Without a telescope the earliest sky watchers saw a group of stars that seemed to moved compared to the “fixed stars” that made the constellations. Today, we recognize these wanderers as worlds that revolve around the sun. We see them moving compared to the seemingly fixed patterns of the constellations behind the ecliptic, frequently known as the zodiac.
Jupiter is slowly moving eastward against a dim Pisces starfield after it reversed its direction a few nights ago.
Notice the star Deneb Kaitos – meaning “the tail of the sea monster” – below Jupiter and about halfway to the horizon.
Mars is farther eastward, very low in the east-northeast at this hour. It rises forty-one minutes after sundown. Look for it later during the evening.
The best view of the three bright planets together is when Jupiter is about halfway up in the south. This occurs about three hours after sundown. With Jupiter high in the south, Mars is about 20° up in the east-northeast. Saturn is at the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Mars, but in the southwest. The planets seem to hang along the arc of the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system, with the zodiacal constellations as their background.
At this hour, Mars can be seen with Taurus. Notice the different orientation that the constellation makes in the eastern evening sky, compared to the western morning sky. This evening, an imaginary line from Elnath to Zeta Tauri nearly makes a vertical line. During the morning, the orientation is nearly horizontal.
During the night the planets appear farther westward. At 12:10 a.m. CST (tomorrow morning), Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. From Chicago, the planet is about 10° up in the west. This is not a favorable location to see the planet or its features through a telescope. At this angle, the air blurs the view. Sometimes the image seems to boil. Sky watchers farther westward can see the planet higher in the sky and in clearer air, especially from the Pacific Time Zone.
By tomorrow morning, Mars is the lone bright planet, appearing again in the western sky.
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