December 3, 2022: The bright gibbous moon is east of bright Jupiter – that bright star in the southeast after sunset – tonight. During the evening, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are in display.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:01 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
From Chicago, the sun is rising after 7 a.m. This continues through February 3, 2023. The latest sunset time of the year started yesterday and continues through the 14th
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Bright Mars is lower in the west-northwest each morning. This morning at one hour before sunup, it is over 15° above the horizon, 5.9° below Elnath – the northern horn of Taurus – and nearly 11° to the upper right of Aldebaran – the constellation’s brightest star.
Mars has been retrograding for over a month. The illusion occurs when Earth passes between the sun and the outer planet. The line of sight from Earth to an outer planet – normally moves eastward against the stellar background, reverses and moves westward or retrograde as Earth passes by.
Aldebaran is less than 10° above the horizon. In a few mornings it will be difficult to see at this hour and will disappear from the morning Mars chart and from this forecast.
The bright star Capella – meaning “the little she-goat” – is about one-third of the way up in the northwest and over 20° to the upper right of the Red Planet.
Another bright star, Vega, is about 10° up in the northeast. The star made its first morning appearance – heliacal rising – last month. It still appears in the western evening sky when it appears in the morning sky during late autumn and early winter. Vega is the second brightest star in the northern half of the sky; that is, north of the celestial equator – the imaginary circle in the sky above Earth’s equator.
Venus and Mercury continue their slow crawl into the evening sky, setting after the sun. Venus sets thirty-seven minutes after sunset and Mercury follows five minutes later.
As night falls the bright gibbous moon, 84% illuminated, is over one-third of the way up in the east-southeast. In four nights, the moon occults or covers Mars in a rare event that has the Red Planet at opposition – a Mars opposition occultation.
At this hour, Mars is only 10° up in the east-northeast, over 50° to the lower left of the moon. Mars is in the sky nearly all night, so there’s no reason to look for it now.
This evening bright Jupiter is nearly halfway up in the sky in the south-southeast, nearly 25° to the upper right of the lunar orb. The Jovian Giant is slowly moving eastward against a dim starfield in Pisces. It is picking up eastward speed.
Saturn is over 30° up in the south-southwest. It is moving eastward against a starfield in eastern Capricornus. It is nearly 40° to the lower right of Jupiter.
By about three hours after sundown, Mars, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are scattered along the arc of the ecliptic, like highway mileage markers. Jupiter is about halfway up in the south, while Mars and Saturn are about 20° above the horizon. Mars is in the east and Saturn in the southwest. With an earlier sunset, this is early enough to spot this display without an overnight wake-up call.
When Taurus rises, its orientation with the eastern horizon is different from when it is in the west. This evening, the constellation appears on its side in the east. Mars is noticeably west of (above) an imaginary line from Elnath to Aldebaran. The constellation’s dimmer stars are whitewashed by the moon’s bright light.
These bright outer planets are joined by Mercury, Venus and the crescent moon from the 24th through the 28th for another five-planet display after sundown. From the western sunset point, the planets order is Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Neptune is west of Jupiter, while Uranus is west of Mars. Along with Earth, the modern solar system is on display after sundown.
During the night, nearly all the planets and the moon set, leaving Mars low in the western sky before sunrise.
- 2023, December 19: A Scorpion Fumble, Moon MidwayDecember 19, 2023: Before sunrise, Venus appears below the Scorpion’s claws. After sundown, the moon is nearly midway from Saturn to Jupiter.
- 2023, December 18: Pinched VenusDecember 18, 2023: Look for Venus between the Scorpion’s claws in the southeast before sunrise. The thick crescent moon is in the evening sky with Jupiter and Saturn.
- 2023, December 17: Celestial PairsDecember 17, 2023: Before sunrise, Venus passes Zubenelgenubi, a planet-star conjunction. After sundown, Saturn and crescent moon are paired, a planet-moon conjunction.
- 2023, December 16: Venus Clawed, Evening Crescent Nears SaturnDecember 16, 2023: Before daybreak, Venus is above the Scorpion’s southern claw. After nightfall, the crescent moon nears Saturn.
- 2023, December 15: Brilliant Morning Star, Evening Lunar CrescentDecember 15, 2023: Before sunrise, brilliant Venus approaches Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion’s southern claw. The crescent moon returns to the western evening sky.