January 16, 2023: The morning crescent moon is with the classic Scorpion. After sundown, Venus nears Saturn leading up to their conjunction in six nights. Jupiter and Mars are visible as well.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:15 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:46 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.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 7:45 UT, 17:41 UT; Jan. 17, 3:37 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:
The crescent moon, 35% illuminated, is about one-third of the way up in the south, one hour before sunrise, 2.2° to the lower right of Zubenelgenubi, meaning “the scorpion’s southern claw.”
Look carefully for earthshine on the moon’s night portion. The effect is reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land. This becomes more prominent during the next few mornings.
The Scorpion has been climbing into the morning sky for several weeks. The classic Scorpius includes Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, now part of Libra. The Scorpion’s heart, Antares, first appeared about three weeks ago after its conjunction with the sun during early December. The tail and stinger are yet to appear. The complete creature is in the sky next month when the moon comes through.
Scorpius repeats this slow climb into the evening sky during the springtime.
Mercury is climbing into the morning sky. Brighter than Antares, to its upper right, Mercury rises 78 minutes before sunrise. At forty-five minutes before sunrise, it is nearly 5° above the east-southeast horizon.
After sundown, brilliant Venus is nearly 10° up in the west-southwest as night falls. It is closing in on a conjunction with Saturn on the 22nd. This evening the dimmer Ringed Wonder is 6.7° to the upper left of the Evening Star.
Both planets are moving eastward, but Venus moves about 10 times farther than Saturn from night to night. They are in front of Capricornus’ dim stars. Saturn is with the stars in eastern Capricornus, near the Aquarius border.
Bright Jupiter is halfway up in the south-southwest, less than 50° to the upper left of Venus. It is moving slowly eastward with Pisces as its sidereal backdrop. Venus overtakes the Jovian Giant on March 1st.
Mars is in the eastern sky, halfway up, to the upper left of Aldebaran. The Red Planet is slowly picking up speed after its illusion of retrograde ended four nights ago. It is noticeably dimmer than when it was closest to Earth on November 30th, but it is brighter than all the stars in this region of the sky, although farther westward Venus and Jupiter are considerably brighter than Mars.
As the sky darkens further and dimmer stars appear, find Mars stellar background, Taurus. The Pleiades star cluster, resembling a tiny dipper, is 8.0° to the upper right of Mars. Aldebaran, 8.5° to the lower right of the planet, makes the Bull’s head with the Hyades star cluster. The Bull’s horns are dotted by Elnath and Zeta Tauri.
Urban and suburban sky watchers may need the optical assist of a binocular to see the Hyades and the Bull’s southern horn, Zeta Tauri.
In a darker sky with the binocular note the eastward change that Saturn made since last night or the most recent cloudless night. Saturn is 1.4° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi and 0.5° to the upper left of 45 Capricorni (45 Cap on the chart).
Saturn and Venus fit tightly into the same binocular field of view, Saturn to the upper left and the Evening Star to the lower right. Use the field to watch Venus overtake and pass Saturn.
At 9:37 p.m. CST from Chicago, Jupiter is less than 10° up in the western sky. The low altitude – height above the horizon – makes seeing the planet’s Red Spot a challenge to see through a telescope. The thicker atmosphere near the horizon blurs the view. For sky watchers in the American West, the planet is higher in the sky at this hour. Those with telescopes can see the Red Spot as well as Io in front of Jupiter – near the spot – and casting its shadow on the cloud tops.
The window to see Jupiter’s atmospheric effects easily is closing. The planet sets over five hours after sundown. When the planet is low in the sky, like tonight, Red Spot viewing is difficult.
- 2023, October 21: Three Bright Planets, First Quarter MoonOctober 21, 2023: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to locate during nighttime hours. The First Quarter moon phase occurs this evening.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.