November 29, 2022: Mars and Mercury are at opposition. They are in the sky at the same time, along with Jupiter and Saturn. The bright outer planets are in the sky during the evening.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:57 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:21 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: 7:48 UT, 17:44 UT; Nov. 30, 3:40 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 0.544AU away today.
This closest approach is the smallest gap between the two planets until July 5, 2033, when the two planets are 0.423 astronomical units apart.
This closest approach should not be confused with opposition, when Earth is between an outer planet and the sun. Because Mars orbit is elliptical, Earth and the Red Planet are closest either before or after our planet passes between Mars and the sun. If Mars is still heading toward aphelion, the point in the orbit farthest away, the closest approach occurs before opposition. The two events can occur up to about a week apart and rarely on the same date. In 2027, the events are less than nine hours apart.
In a planet-planet opposition, Earth is between them. Mars and Mercury are at that tonight. They are 180° apart in the sky as viewed from Earth. After this date and when the speedy planet is higher in the sky, they appear in the sky simultaneously. Mercury is in the western sky as Mars is in the east, but Mercury is not setting late enough to be visible easily. While Mercury’s evening trek only lasts through early January, it is worth noting that four bright planets are in the sky now along with Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, the ninth classic planet.
When such oppositions occur in the evening sky, this notes the date that starts a period when a planetary pair is in the sky at the same time. In the morning, this announces the last time two planets are in the sky together for a particular appearance of either planet.
On October 1st, this occurred for Venus and Jupiter. There is no opposition announcing their simultaneous appearance in the evening sky.
Tomorrow, the Venus-Mars opposition occurs and the two planets are in the sky through late July 2022.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY
With the closest point imminent, Mars is low in the western sky before sunrise, about 20° up in the west-northwest. It is the only planet in the sky one hour before sunrise. Mars continues to retrograde in front of Taurus. This morning, the Red Planet is 4.7° to the lower left of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn.
SUMMARY FOR VENUS AS AN EVENING STAR, 2022-2023
Mercury and Venus continue their slow emergence from bright sunlight after their individual superior conjunctions at the far arcs of their solar orbits. Venus and Mercury set at about the same time, within a minute at 32 minutes after sundown.
The waxing moon, 43% illuminated is easily visible during the day before sunset. By an hour after sundown, the lunar crescent is over one-third of the way up in the south and 10.4° to the left of Saturn.
The moon reaches its First Quarter phase tomorrow at 8:37 a.m. CST. From North America the lunar orb does not rise until after midday.
Saturn is slowly moving eastward compared to the stars in eastern Capricornus.
Farther eastward, bright Jupiter is in the southeast, 39.0° from Saturn. The Jovian Giant is over twenty times brighter than the Ringed Wonder. Even though it reflects sunlight, Jupiter is the brightest star in the sky tonight.
Mars rises twenty-five minutes after sundown and thirty-five minutes later, it is only 5° up in the east-northeast. There’s no rush to see it at this time, because it is in the sky nearly all night.
By about three hours after sundown, Jupiter is about halfway up in the southern sky, with the moon to its lower right. Saturn is about 20° up in the southwest and Mars is the same altitude in the east-northeast. The three bright outer planets mark the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system.
At 9:40 p.m. CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is in the southern hemisphere at the center of the planet for sky watchers with telescopes. From the Chicago area, the planet is over one-third of the way up in the southwest, still high enough for a favorable view. The planet is higher and in clearer air for sky watchers farther west.
During the night the moon and planets appear farther westward. Saturn sets first, followed by the moon, and then Jupiter. By tomorrow morning, Mars is again in the western sky, the lone bright planet visible at that time.
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