January 22, 2023: This evening is the Venus-Saturn conjunction. The Evening Star passes 0.4° to the lower left of Saturn. Elusive Mercury is visible before sunup.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:12 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:53 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: 2:47 UT, 12:43 UT. 22:38 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.
Today’s date is marked on the calendar as the Lunar New Year. This typically occurs on the second New moon after the winter solstice. That occurred yesterday, 2:53 p.m. CST. In Asia, the date was the 22nd, the civil date of the observance. So, in the western hemisphere, that’s today – Happy Lunar New Year.
So how does one name conjunctions or groupings of planets and the moon? The practice that is used in these articles is to name the brightest planet first, such as a Venus-Saturn conjunction or a Jupiter-Mars conjunction, when Jupiter is brighter than Mars. The planets, regardless of their brightness, are named before the moon such as a Saturn-Moon conjunction. And the moon is always named before a conjunction with a star, such as a Moon-Spica conjunction.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Mercury is the lone bright planet in the morning sky. Forty-five minutes before sunup, it is less than 10° up in the southeast. In a week, the planet reaches its largest angle or greatest elongation from the sun. It rises 92 minutes before sunup.
Find a location with a clear view toward the southeast horizon. Use a binocular to initially find Mercury. Do not confuse the planet with Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius, that is nearly 20° up in the south-southeast or with Altair, 20° up in the east.
Mercury continues to brighten during the next week, still rising more than 90 minutes before the sun and appearing about 10° above the southeastern horizon during morning twilight.
This evening is the Venus-Saturn conjunction. Begin looking for Venus low in the west-southwest about 45 minutes after sundown. Dimmer Saturn is 0.4° to the upper right of the Evening Star. They are separated by a gap that is a little less than the apparent diameter of a Full moon.
While the pair looks close together in the sky, they are millions of miles from Earth. Venus is 143 million miles away, while Saturn is nearly a billion miles! On the chart as viewed from north of the solar system, the line of sight begins at Earth and extends through Venus to Saturn, so that both planets are visible in the same direction in the sky from Earth.
The next Venus-Saturn conjunction that is easily visible occurs on January 19, 2025.
Jupiter, Venus’ next bright target, is about halfway up in the southwest, about 40° to the upper left of the brilliant planet. That conjunction is March 1st. On the way, Venus passes Neptune on February 15th.
If you have a good view of the west-southwest horizon, you might see the crescent moon, 2% illuminated, immediately above the skyline. Tomorrow evening, the crescent is to the upper left of the planet pair.
This evening, look at Venus and Saturn through a binocular. They are east of Deneb Algedi and 45 Capricorni (45 Cap on the chart) in the eastern Capricornus starfield. Venus is 1.4° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi. Venus appears in the same binocular field with Saturn for another six nights until the pair is too far apart to fit.
The fourth bright planet, Mars is high in the east-southeast during the evening twilight, to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. As the sky darkens further, the sidereal background appears with Mars.
The Red Planet is 8.3° to the upper left of the Bull’s brightest star. The planet is slowly marching eastward against the background. It passes the star in eight nights.
Scan Taurus with the binocular, noticing the bright blue stars in the Pleiades star cluster and the yellow-white stars in the Hyades.
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