January 23, 2023: Mercury is visible in the southeast before sunup. Saturn, Venus, Moon, Jupiter, and Mars span the sky after sundown in a pretty planet parade.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:11 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:54 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: 8:35 UT, 18:30 UT; Jan 24, 4:26 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:
Mercury continues as the lone bright morning planet, appearing in the southeastern sky before sunrise. At forty-five minutes before sunup, it is nearly 10° above the horizon. Use a binocular to initially locate the planet in the growing blush of morning twilight.
Mercury is brighter than the stars in this region of the sky, including Antares, to the planet’s upper right, and Altair to its upper left.
The planet is nearing greatest elongation from the sun in a week. Mercury has three complete morning appearances during the year, starting the fourth during December. The best morning appearance of the year occurs during September, when the planet reaches its greatest elongation on September 23rd.
This evening, look for a pretty gathering of brilliant Venus, Saturn and the crescent moon in the southwestern sky. At first, the lunar crescent, 7% illuminated and standing about 15° up in the southwest, may catch your eye. It is 7.6° to the upper left of Venus, just outside the same field of view for many binocular models. The Evening Star is over 10° above the west-southwest horizon at 45 minutes after sundown. Sky watchers in more easterly time zones might be able to see Venus and the moon in the same field of view, certainly from European locales.
Venus is 1.3° to the upper left of Saturn, after their conjunction yesterday. Venus climbs higher into the sky each evening, setting over two minutes later each evening, while Saturn sets 4 minutes earlier each night. The Ringed Wonder disappears into bright twilight in about a week.
Use a binocular to see Venus and Saturn against the starfield in eastern Capricornus, moving into Aquarius tomorrow evening. Venus has stepped through a region of the sky where Saturn has appeared for the past year. This evening, Venus is 0.9° to the lower left of Mu Capricorni (μ Cap on the chart). Saturn is east of Deneb Algedi, 1.7° to the upper right.
See the four bright evening planets simultaneously before Saturn disappears. The third planet in this evening parade is Jupiter. It is above the planet-moon gathering, nearly halfway up in the sky in the southwest. It is overtaken and passed by Venus on March 1st. This evening the Venus-Jupiter gap is 38.5°. Watch it shrink from night to night. Beginning February 20th, Venus is within 10° of the Jovian Giant.
Mars, the fourth planet in the parade, is in the east-southeast after sundown, to the upper left of Aldebaran. The four bright planets and the moon are along the arc of the solar system’s plane, known as the ecliptic.
The Red Planet is slowly marching eastward in front of Taurus. About an hour after sunset, the stellar background is visible with Mars. Find it nearly 60° above the east-northeast horizon and 8.2° to the upper left of Aldebaran. The Mars-Aldebaran conjunction occurs in a week. Mars is 8.6° to the lower left of the Pleiades star cluster, a bunch of stars resembling a miniature dipper.
- 2023, October 12: Bright Morning Planets Bookend Stellar SpectacularOctober 12, 2023: Before sunrise, brilliant Venus and Jupiter bracket the Milky Way’s bright Orion region.
- 2023, October 11: Morning Earthshine, LeoOctober 11, 2023: The morning’s thin lunar crescent displays earthshine as it appears near the constellation Leo.
- 2023, October 10: Morning Venus-Moon-Regulus Gathering, Venus-Saturn OppositionOctober 10, 2023: This morning Venus, the crescent moon, and Regulus gather in the eastern sky for a beautiful celestial display. Venus and Saturn are at opposition today.
- 2023, October 9: Venus-Regulus Conjunction, Morning Crescent MoonOctober 9, 2023: The Venus-Regulus conjunction occurs this morning. The morning crescent moon is above Venus during twilight.
- 2023, October 8: Celestial Barnyard, Convergence at RegulusOctober 8, 2023: The moon is visible with a celestial barnyard during morning twilight. Venus and the lunar crescent head for a celestial gathering in two mornings.