January 30, 2023: Saturn leaves the evening sky. The moon passes very close to Mars. Mars has a wide conjunction with Aldebaran.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:05 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:03 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: 9:24 UT, 19:19 UT; Jan 31, 5:16 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.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
For early risers or late-night revelers, the moon is near the Pleiades after midnight. The moon sets about 2:30 a.m. CST in Chicago. Ninety minutes earlier, when the moon and star cluster are higher in the western sky, the lunar orb is 3.3° from the cluster. Use a binocular to pick out the star cluster with the moon’s brightness.
Forty-five minutes before sunup, Mercury, after its greatest elongation before midnight yesterday, is over 6° above the southeast horizon. The planet rises 86 minutes after sunset, losing at least two minutes of rising time each morning.
While the planet is brighter than Altair, in the east, and Antares, in the south-southeast, it is low in the sky and in the blush of morning twilight. Use a binocular to initially find Mercury, then look for it without the optical assist.
After Mercury disappears from the morning sky, the next planet to enter across the eastern horizon is Saturn. That occurs around the March equinox, earlier for our southern hemisphere readers.
This is the last evening to see four bright planets simultaneously. From the west-southwest they are Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. After this evening Saturn is visible only with optical assistance because it is too low in brighter evening twilight.
To find Saturn this evening at 45 minutes after sundown, first look for brilliant Venus that is over 10° above the west-southwest horizon. Saturn, about 5° above the horizon, is 9.1° to the lower right of Venus. Even tonight a binocular might be needed to initially see the Ringed Wonder. After this evening, we say, “Goodbye!” to Saturn. It passes behind the sun on February 16th and as noted in the morning section, it returns to the morning sky during late March.
Bright Jupiter is less than halfway up in the southwest, 31.0° to the upper left of the Evening Star. The Jovian Giant is slowly moving eastward against a dim Pisces starfield, near the Cetus border. It is overtaken by Venus in a close conjunction on March 1st.
Farther eastward, the bright gibbous moon, 73% illuminated, is high in the east-southeast, 2.1° to the upper right of Mars. During the night, the moon slides past Mars from the American Midwest.
Across the southern tier of states from Florida to Southern California, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, the moon covers or occults Mars. For sky watchers in those locales, see this resource for times when the occultation begins and then Mars reappears.
A few minutes before midnight at Chicago, the edge of the moon passes 0.1° from Mars, a near occultation. Look at the scene with a binocular or a spotting scope.
Meanwhile, earlier this evening, Mars passes 8.2° from Aldebaran, the third conjunction in a triple conjunction series. This combination began when Mars was moving eastward on September 7th. After Mars started its retrograde, the second occurred December 26th. The illusion of retrograde ended on the 12th and the planet resumed its eastward march to reach the third conjunction this evening.
Mars now heads through a Taurus starfield toward the horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. Watch the planet move farther westward from night to night and approach the constellation’s western regions.
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