2023, January 13: Virgo Moon, Venus Approaches Saturn

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January 13, 2023: The morning gibbous moon is in front of Virgo.  After sunset, Venus closes in on Saturn, leading up to the January 22nd conjunction.  Jupiter and Mars are visible as well.

2022, March 28: A close bunching of Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the crescent moon.
Photo Caption – 2022, March 28: A close bunching of Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the crescent moon.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:17 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:42 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.

The sunrise time is moving earlier every few days.  By month’s end the sun rises at 7:04 a.m. CST in Chicago.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 0:19 UT, 10:14 UT, 20:10 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.  Times are from Sky & Telescope magazine.

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, January 13: The gibbous moon is with Virgo before sunrise.

This morning the gibbous moon, 66% illuminated, is halfway up in the south-southwest, 5.7° to the right (west) of the star Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis, at one hour before sunrise.

Porrima is about 30 light years away. To our eye it appears as a single star, but through a larger telescope, the single star is two stars of about the same brightness.   In his Celestial Handbook, Robert Burnham wrote, “They look for all the world like the remote twin headlights of some celestial auto, approaching from deep space (p. 2068).”

The second star revolves around the system’s central star every 171 years, in a highly elliptical orbit.  At their closest, attained most recently in 2007, they are separated by about three times Earth’s distance from the sun.  At their widest separation, they are about twice Pluto’s distance from our central star.

Virgo is a non-descript constellation.  Its brightest star is Spica – meaning “the ear of corn.” At this hour, the star is over one-third of the way up in the south.

Topaz Arcturus is high in the southern sky.

Arcturus and Spica are prominent during January mornings before sunrise and during late spring evenings.

During the next two mornings, the moon passes Spica.  Tomorrow, it is west of the star and east of it the next morning. 

Mercury continues to scamper into the morning sky.  Rising 63 minutes before the sun, the innermost planet is about 5° above the east-southeast horizon at 30 minutes before sunup.  It is quite dim.  Unlike when Mercury was in the evening sky about a month ago with brilliant Venus, there is no celestial guide to provide an easy reference.  Mercury is visible earlier each morning and brightens considerably during the next several days.

On the 19th, the crescent moon is somewhat nearby, but not in the same binocular field of view with the planet.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, January 13: Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are along an arc on the western sky, after sundown.

The planet dance continues in the western sky after sunset, as Venus takes aim at Saturn.  The brilliant Evening Star is less than 10° above the west-southwest horizon at 45 minutes after sunset.  Find a clear horizon in that direction or view from an elevated structure or hilltop to look across any obstructions.

Venus is 10.2° to the lower right of dimmer Saturn.  Each evening Venus is higher in the sky while Saturn is lower.  Venus passes the Ringed Wonder on the 22nd.  Look for them each clear evening as Venus closes in and then moves away after the conjunction. Around month’s end, Saturn disappears into bright evening twilight.  It reappears in the morning sky later in the year.

Jupiter is that “bright star” about halfway up in the south-southwest, over 50° to the upper left of Venus.  It is Venus’ target after the Saturn conjunction.  The gap is now quite wide, but in about a month, Venus closes to within 10° of the Jovian Giant.  Their conjunction occurs on March 1st.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 13: Mars is near Aldebaran in the east, after sunset.

Farther eastward, Mars is beginning its eastward march after its retrograde ended yesterday.  The Red Planet is halfway up in the eastern sky at this hour, 8.5° to the upper left of Aldebaran.  Mars passes the star on the 30th.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 13: As twilight wanes, Mars is visible in front of Taurus.

As the sky darkens further, Taurus’ stars become visible behind Mars.  The Bull’s head is made by bright Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster.  Use a binocular to see the cluster in urban and suburban settings along with Zeta Tauri, the southern horn.  Elnath is the northern horn. The Pleiades are on the animal’s back.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 13: Through a binocular, Saturn is near Deneb Algedi and 45 Capricorni (45 Cap).

Through the binocular, look at Saturn in the starfield in eastern Capricornus. The planet is passing Deneb Algedi.  This evening the gap is 1.4°.  Last night, Saturn passed 45 Capricorni (45 Cap on the chart).  Tonight, they are still close together, 0.2°.  Saturn continues its eastward trek.

Venus enters the same binocular field with Saturn on the 16th and the pair is visible in that field until the 28th.

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