2023, January 14: Morning Moon, Spica, Evening Planets


January 14, 2023: Before sunrise, the moon is near Spica.  After sundown, Venus continues to approach Saturn.  Jupiter and Mars are visible as well.

Photo Caption – 2020, November 12: One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is 0.3° to the lower left of Theta Virginis (θ Vir) in the east-southeastern sky. The crescent moon is 6.5° above Venus and 2.9° to the lower left of Gamma Virginis (γ Vir). Spica is 6.5° to the lower right of Venus, Mercury is hidden by clouds.


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:16 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:44 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: 6:06 UT, 16:02 UT; Jan. 15, 1:58 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 14: The gibbous moon is near Spica before sunup.

One hour before sunrise, the gibbous moon is about halfway up in the sky in the south-southwest, 7.5° to the upper right of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

The moon reaches its morning half phase (Last Quarter) at 8:10 p.m. CST.

Like the evening planets spread across the sky from east to west-southwest, Spica is a marker along the ecliptic.  While the worlds move compared to the starry background, Spica is a fixed marker along the ecliptic, 2.0° below the solar system’s plane.

Bright planets and the moon move near it.  The moon passes each month, while the planets are less frequent visitors.  This year Mars passes the star during bright evening twilight during October.  When Venus returns to the morning sky later in the year, it passes Spica on November 29th.

Because of their slower orbital rates, Jupiter and Saturn have infrequent conjunctions with a star.  A Jupiter-Spica conjunction occurs on December 25, 2028, followed by a Saturn-Spica conjunction on January 23, 2041.  This is about three months after the next great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, October 31, 2040.

Mercury continues to race into the morning sky before sunrise, rising 68 minutes before the sun. At thirty minutes before sunup, the planet is about 6° above the east-southeast horizon.  It is dim.  With a binocular it might be visible against the bright glow of later twilight.  It brightens and rises earlier each morning.  With a cloudless sky, there’s plenty of opportunity to see the planet in a darker sky during the mornings ahead.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, January 14: Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are in the western sky after sundown.

Venus takes aim at Saturn in the west-southwestern sky after sundown. At 45 minutes after the sun sets, brilliant Venus is less than 10° above the horizon.  It continues to emerge from its superior conjunction into a darker evening sky.

Venus is 9.0° to the lower right of Saturn.  Venus passes the Ringed Wonder on the 22nd.  While they’ll seem to be very close in the sky, Saturn is nearly seven times farther away than Venus.

Bright Jupiter, over halfway up in the south-southwest, is over 50° to the Evening Star’s upper left.  The Jovian Giant is slowly moving eastward in Pisces.  Venus overtakes the planet on March 1st, in a spectacular pairing of the two worlds.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 14: After sunset, Mars is in the east, near Aldebaran.

In the east, Mars is over halfway up in the sky, 8.5° to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.  The Red Planet is slowly marching eastward with the Bull as the sidereal backdrop.

Chart Caption – 2023, January 14: At one hour after sundown, Mars can be seen with Taurus.

As the sky darkens further, the Bull’s dimmer stars are visible. Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster, use a binocular to see the stellar bundle, make the head of Taurus.  Elnath and Zeta Tauri dot the long horns of this animal.  The Pleiades star cluster is on the back.

The Bull seems to be charging, with its head and horns angled toward the horizon.  During the night, it backs up and seems to move westward as Earth rotates. Mars and Aldebaran are south about four hours after sundown.  They set in the west-northwest three hours before sunup. So that menacing pose, was rebuffed by the stars’ nightly westward trek. 

Chart Caption – 2023, January 14: Through a binocular, Saturn appears against stars in eastern Capricornus.

Use a binocular to check Saturn’s place compared to the Capricornus starfield.  The Ringed Wonder is 1.4° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi – meaning “the kid’s tail.”  It is noticeably east of 45 Capricorni (45 Cap), 0.3° to the star’s upper left.

Photo Caption – Jupiter (NASA Photo)

At 7:58 p.m. CST, Jupiter is less than one-third of the way up in the west-southwest from Chicago, not an ideal spot for viewing the planet’s atmospheric features.  At this altitude – height above the horizon – Earth’s air can blur the image and seemingly make it dance in the telescopic eyepiece.  At this time, the planet’s Great Red Spot is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere through a telescope.  Sky watchers farther westward see the planet higher in the sky and in clearer air.



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