December 6, 2022: One night before a Mars opposition occultation, the moon is nearing the Red Planet. Mars, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are seen along the arc of the solar system during the early evening.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:04 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
SUMMARIES FOR CURRENT SKY EVENTS
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Bright Mars is lower in the west-northwest each morning. An hour before sunrise, the Red Planet is about 15° up in the west-northwest, 6.9° to the lower right of Elnath, the northern horn of Taurus.
Mars is retrograding in Taurus. The illusion is from Earth passing between the planet and the sun tomorrow evening. This is known as opposition. The sun and Mars are 180° apart in the sky, appearing in opposite directions, and appearing and disappearing at opposite times. Mars rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. Soon the planet is not visible at this time interval when it begins to set before sunrise.
Mars is the lone planet in the sky at this hour after the nightly display of planets.
Venus and Mercury are slowly moving into the evening sky. For enthusiastic sky watchers, they are visible in a few evenings at 30 minutes after sundown. They are already visible for sky watchers at more southerly latitudes.
This evening Venus sets 40 minutes after sunset, followed by Mercury 10 minutes later.
An hour after sundown, the three bright outer planets are visible, although Mars is a challenge because it is low in the east-northeast. One night before a rare Mars opposition occultation, the moon, 99% illuminated, is over 15° to the upper right of the Red Planet.
Tomorrow evening, the moon covers or occults Mars. This occurs during the evening for North America. More details in tomorrow’s forecast.
The Pleiades star cluster is only 3.5° to the upper left of the lunar orb, but it is whitewashed by the moon’s brilliance. A binocular is helpful to see them in the moon’s glare. Hold the binocular so that the moon is outside the field of view. While not permanently harmful, the moon’s light may create a temporary afterimage in your vision, like that from a photo flash. This will pass, but avoid the effect by excluding the moon from the binocular field of view.
Mars is about 10° above the horizon and the same distance to the upper left of Aldebaran, the bright star in Taurus.
At this hour, bright Jupiter is “that bright star” in the south-southeast. It is slowly moving eastward in Pisces, picking up speed each night.
Saturn is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest, moving eastward against the stars of eastern Capricornus.
About 2.5 hours after sunset, Mars, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible along the arc of the ecliptic, the solar system’s plane.
At 10:31 p.m. CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is visible through a telescope. From Chicago, the planet is over 20° up in the west-southwest. Sky watchers farther westward see the planet higher in the sky and in clearer air.
By tomorrow morning, Jupiter and Saturn are below the western horizon, leaving Mars with the moon less than 10° to its lower right.
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