2023: This is a summary of the five bright planets, Moon, and bright stars near the ecliptic for the year. Venus puts on a brilliant display later in the year.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
The morning sky during 2023 offers opportunities to see the moon pass bright stars and planets. The chart above shows the rising time intervals for the five bright planets planets, bright stars near the ecliptic, and the moon up to five hours before sunrise. The three phases of twilight are shown as well.
The times are calculated as the time difference between sunrise and the object rising. Times are from the US Naval Observatory.
The moon’s rising time intervals are shown with circles. Some individual dates are shown.
The setting time intervals of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are displayed compared to the sun. These events occur in the western sky. When a planet sets at sunrise, the planet is at opposition.
Interesting conjunctions of planets as well as gatherings of the moon with planets and stars are indicated with date and separations.
The chart shows rising times. Simultaneous rising of the moon with a star can occur, but the two can be far apart in the sky. For example, the July 12th moon circle is close to the Jupiter line. They rise only 7 minutes apart, but they are nearly 8° apart in the sky. The moon is closer on the preceding morning.
Find a printable copy of the chart here.
As the year opens, the morning sky is without any bright planets or the moon. Mars, after its opposition during December 2022, sets two hours before sunrise and earlier throughout the first and second quarters. After superior conjunction on January 7th, Mercury moves into the southeastern morning sky, rising over 90 minutes before sunrise and standing low in the sky during mid-twilight. On the 18th, the moon passes 2.0° from Antares (α Sco) and makes a wide pass at Mercury on the 19th.
Mercury recedes into bright twilight. At mid-month, the moon passes Antares again, although wider than during January. While they rise during bright twilight, use a binocular to try for Mercury and the moon on the 18th. They snugly fit into the same binocular field of view. Saturn is at conjunction with the sun on the 16th, beginning a slow climb into the morning sky.
The moon moves through a starry background that is without any of the night’s brightest stars. There is a Mercury-Saturn conjunction on the 2nd, but it is buried in bright twilight. By month’s end Saturn is over 5° above the horizon at 45 minutes before sunup.
The moon passes Saturn on the 15th and 16th. Saturn rises before the beginning of twilight. At month’s end at one hour before sunup, it is nearly 15° up in the east-southeast. Jupiter is at solar conjunction on the 11th and begins to climb into a morning sky where morning twilight is starting to lengthen.
Mercury is at inferior conjunction on the 1st, but begins an unfavorable appearance. While Jupiter rises into longer morning twilight, it is fairly easy to find. The moon is near Saturn on the 13th. On the 17th, the moon is only 1.1° away from Jupiter. During very bright twilight, Jupiter, Mercury, and the crescent moon fit snugly into the same binocular field of view. This is a very challenging observation. Mercury reaches greatest elongation (24.9°) on the 29th.
Three bright planets are in the morning sky. The moon appears with Saturn on the 9th and 10th and with Jupiter on the 14th. The thin crescent moon is in the same binocular field of view with Mercury on the 16th, in another challenging view. Aldebaran (α Tau) passes solar conjunction and moves into bright morning twilight. While not charted, Capella rises before Aldebaran and signals the reappearance of the bright stars of the Orion region that culminates with the reappearance of Sirius during mid-August. Near June 20th, Saturn has a rising interval greater than five hours and no longer appears on the chart, but it appears in the western morning sky until Saturn’s opposition with the sun on August 27th.
Mercury departs the morning sky for an evening sky excursion. The moon passes Jupiter on the 11th and makes a pretty grouping with the Pleiades (M45) on the 13th. Through a binocular or in a photograph this view is worth the early alarm. The crescent widely passes Aldebaran on the 14th. Pollux (β Gem) passes conjunction early in the month and begins its entry into the eastern morning sky. Jupiter rises before five hours before the sun around the 21st and appears before sunrise in the west until its solar opposition on November 2.
Venus is at inferior conjunction on the 13th and quickly appears in the morning sky. Only nine days later it rises over an hour before sunrise. During August, three bright planets are in the sky simultaneously. While not on the chart, look for another pretty grouping of the crescent moon with the Pleiades on the 9th. The moon’s phase is not as slender as last month, but worth the look. The crescent is near Pollux on the 13th and 14th. Saturn is at opposition on the 27th, setting at sunrise. Afterwards it sets before sunrise. Regulus (α Leo), the closest bright star to the ecliptic, passes behind the sun late in the month and returns to the morning sky next month.
On the 1st, Venus rises nearly two hours before sunrise and stands nearly 10° up in the east an hour later. It rises over 70 minutes before Regulus. Mercury passes inferior conjunction on the 6th and makes a speedy entry into the morning sky, reaching greatest elongation (17.9°) on the 22nd for its best morning appearance of the year. Saturn sets before Mercury becomes visible, so only three planets are visible simultaneously, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn or Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter. The moon passes Pollux on the 10th. Beginning about the 10th, Venus and Sirius have the same altitude – height above the horizon. This continues through the end of the month. On the 11th, use a binocular to spot a thin crescent moon with the Beehive star cluster in the same binocular field of view. The crescent is 11.3° from Venus. The next morning, the crescent moon is 13.0° from Venus and 9.5° from Regulus. On the 13th, the waning moon is 4.7° from the same star. As Mercury nears its greatest elongation, it closes to withing 8.0° of Regulus on the 16th. On the 17th, Venus is at the mid-point of its greatest brightness, marked as GB on the chart.
Brilliant Venus stands in the eastern sky before sunrise, rising nearly 220 minutes before the sun’s appearance. Follow bright Mercury – approaching the brightness of Sirius – back into bright twilight during the first several days of the month. The moon groups with Venus and Regulus on the 10th. The gathering snugly fits into the same binocular field of view. The next morning, Venus passes Regulus. On this morning Saturn sets as Venus rises, a Venus-Saturn opposition. They are in opposite directions from Earth. After this date Saturn sets before Venus rises, leaving Venus and Jupiter as the bright morning planets. On the 23rd, Venus is at its greatest elongation (46.4°), GE on the chart. Venus reaches its longest rising time interval on the 26th (236 minutes), lasting through November 6th. Spica (α Vir) passes solar conjunction and moves into the morning sky.
As the month opens, Venus continues to rise at its earliest time interval before sunrise. The crescent moon is only 1.3° away from the Morning Star on the 9th. This is a memorable view with a 14% illuminated crescent showing earthshine and the brilliant planet to its upper right. The moon passes Spica on the 11th. Mars is at conjunction with the sun on the 18th and begins a slow entry into the morning sky during 2024. The Venus-Spica conjunction occurs on the 29th. Still rising quite earlier compared to sunrise, the planet ends the month rising 223 minutes before the sun.
At one hour before sunrise, Venus is nearly 30° up in the southeast near Spica as the month begins. Antares is at solar conjunction on the 2nd. Look for it in the southeast about solstice time. The moon passes 3.7° to the lower right of Venus on the 9th. This date marks when Venus and Jupiter are opposite in the sky and the last time they can be seen together in the sky for this morning appearance of both planets. Venus passes Zubenelgenubi on the 17th. Mercury is at inferior conjunction on the 22nd, beginning a morning apparition that carries it into 2024 and a greatest elongation on January 12, 11.6° to the lower left of Venus.
The year 2023 begins without a bright planet, but slowly they appear, led by Mercury as it shuttles from morning to evening sky and back again. The moon makes its recurrent appearances with the stars and planets, waning to the New moon phase. Saturn and Jupiter make their individual appearances, but they are moderately far apart on the celestial sphere. Venus dashes into the morning sky during the summer, passing Regulus and Spica and puts on a brilliant display in the eastern sky as the year ends.
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