2023, January 10: Handled Moon, Bright Evening Planets

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January 10, 2023: The morning moon appears near the Sickle of Leo.  After sunset, the four bright planets are visible from the southwest to the east.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 10: The gibbous moon is near the Sickle of Leo before sunup.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:18 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:39 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.  Times are calculated from the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.

After this morning’s sunrise, the sunrise time begins to get earlier.  By month’s end, the sun rises at 7:04 a.m. CST.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 2:48 UT, 12:44 UT, 22:39 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.  Times are from Sky & Telescope magazine.

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

On hour before sunrise, the bright moon, 89% illuminated, is less than 40° above the west-southwest horizon.  The lunar orb is with Leo this morning, among the stars of a backwards-question-mark shape, known as the Sickle of Leo – representing a farmer’s tool for cutting crops.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 10: Through a binocular the moon is near Eta Leonis (η Leo).

The dimmer stars on the chart are likely washed out by the moon’s glare.  Through a binocular spot the lunar orb near the star Eta Leonis (η Leo on the chart).

Leo is a westward-facing lion.  The sickle makes the head, with Regulus – meaning “the prince” – dotting the heart.  The haunches and tail are outlined by a triangle to the east of the sickle.  Denebola is the tail.

Mercury is speeding into the morning sky.  This morning it rises 40 minutes before sunrise, not yet placed for easy observing.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, January 10: Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are in the western sky after sundown.

Four bright planets are visible after sunset.  At forty-five minutes after sundown, find Venus less than 10° above the southwest horizon.  It is noticeably farther north (to the right) of the southwest direction than it was when it became easily visible less than a month ago.

Venus appears higher in the sky and sets farther northward until early May.  During the remainder of January, the planet sets nearly two minutes later each evening.  By month’s end it sets over two hours after sundown.

The Evening Star continues to step eastward over 1° from night to night.  This evening it is 13.5° to the lower right of Saturn.  The Ringed Wonder is less than 20° above the southwest horizon.  A Venus-Saturn conjunction occurs on the 22nd.

After Venus passes Saturn it moves toward Jupiter, the bright star halfway up in the south-southwest, over 50° to the upper left of Venus.  That’s quite a distance to cover, but watch Venus close in on the Jovian Giant. 

The Venus-Jupiter conjunction occurs on March 1st.  From February 20th through March 11th, Venus and Jupiter are within 10°.  These two bright planets appearing near each other is quite a sight as Venus seems to dance past Jupiter.  After this year’s conjunction, the next easily observed conjunction of these two planets occurs during the summer of 2025.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 10: Mars is in the east near Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, after sunset.

Mars is farther eastward, about halfway up in the east, 8.5° to the upper left of Aldebaran.  The planet’s retrograde, the illusion of westward motion against the sidereal backdrop, ends in two nights.  It passes Aldebaran again for the final meeting in a triple conjunction series on the 30th.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 10: At an hour after sundown, Mars is seen against the stars of Taurus.

As the sky darkens further, the dimmer stars of Taurus are visible.  Depending on the amount of outdoor lighting, a binocular may be needed to see the Hyades star cluster and Zeta Tauri – the Bull’s southern horn.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 10: Through a binocular, Saturn is near Deneb Algedi in eastern Capricornus.

Farther westward, check Saturn’s eastward step compared to the starry background of eastern Capricornus.  It is 1.4° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi and 0.2° to the lower left of 45 Capricorni (45 Cap on the chart).  Check each clear evening. 

Saturn disappears into bright twilight at month’s end, reaches it solar conjunction on February 16th and returns to the morning sky during late March. When the Ringed Wonder returns to the morning sky it appears nearly 9° farther eastward in front of Aquarius, the next constellation eastward.

Photo Caption – This Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, taken on June 27, 2019, reveals the giant planet’s trademark Great Red Spot, and a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. The colors, and their changes, provide important clues to ongoing processes in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is at center stage in the southern hemisphere at 4:39 p.m. CST.  This is a few minutes before sunset from Chicago, not an ideal time to view the planet’s feature.  For sky watchers with telescopes farther eastward, the sky is darker for a better sighting.

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