2023, February 3: Moon-Pollux Conjunction, Evening Planetary Dance


February 3, 2023: The bright moon is near Pollux after sundown.  Three bright planets – Venus, Jupiter, and Mars – dance against the celestial backdrop during the evening hours.

Photo Caption – 2019, November 22: Venus and Jupiter are 2.1 degrees apart.


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:01 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:08 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: 2:51 UT, 12:47 UT, 22:43 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:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, early February: The Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – is in the eastern sky before sunrise.

The morning sky is without an easy-to-see planet.  Mercury is retreating into brighter morning twilight.  It rises 78 minutes before sunup and about 40 minutes later it is about 6° above the southeastern horizon.  With no bright stars, planets or the moon nearby, finding the planet is a challenge in this level of twilight.

For those looking earlier, the bright moon, 95% illuminated, is low in the northwestern sky.

The Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – is in the eastern sky during early twilight.  The three stars made their first morning appearance over a month ago.  Vega is the highest of the three stars.  Deneb is lower in the east-northeast, while Altair is low in the east.

The three stars first appear in the evening sky at the time of the summer solstice, and so the triangular name.  They belong to their own formal constellations: Vega is the brightest star in Lyra; Altair, Aquila; and Deneb, Cygnus.

After their first morning appearances, they rise earlier each day and are higher in the morning sky before sunrise.  By summer, they are rising around sunset. During February, the sun rises and sets, but the Triangle is far enough north, that it is low in the western sky after sunset.  Altair sets early.  Vega follows about 90 minutes after sundown, while Deneb sets less than four hours after Lyra’s brightest star.  

At certain times of the year, some stars can be seen before sunrise and after sunset on the same day.  The named stars are Arcturus, Vega, Deneb, Altair, and Capella.  The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, Draco, and Cepheus never set and can be seen throughout the night in the northern sky.  A similar set of circumpolar stars never set for sky watchers in the southern hemisphere.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, February 3: After sundown, the nearly-full moon is below Pollux.

Brilliant Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and the moon are in the evening sky.  The bright moon, 98% illuminated, is nearing the Full moon phase on the 5th at 12:29 p.m. CST.  This evening, it can’t be missed, about one-third of the way up in the east-northeast after sundown.  As the sky darkens, look for Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins, 3.5° above the lunar orb.  With this level of moonlight, the nearby stars are difficult to see.  Block the moon with your hand as you would to reduce the sun’s glare to see Pollux.

With the bright moon, notice the illumination of the features around you.  You can even see your shadow.  This gentle moonlight is the similar to the same effect we see on the moon when it is in the crescent phase.  Earth’s features reflect sunlight that lights up the lunar night.

Near the Full moon phase, moonlight is bright enough for an evening walk without a flashlight.

Chart Caption – 2023, February 3: Mars is in the east-southeast, to the upper left of Aldebaran.

Mars is high in the east-southeast, over 45° to the upper right of the lunar orb.  The Red Planet is marching eastward in Taurus, 8.2° to the upper left of Aldebaran, the constellation’s brightest star.  The planet is parading toward Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn.

Chart Caption – 2023, February 3: Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are in the southwestern sky after sundown.

Tonight’s feature attraction is in the western sky after sundown.  Evening Star Venus continues its early approach to Jupiter, culminating in a conjunction on March 1st.  At forty-five minutes after sundown, Venus is about 15° up in the west-southwest.

Venus continues to emerge from bright twilight after its superior conjunction on October 22, 2022.  It steps eastward at over 1° each night, closing the gap to Jupiter that is less than 27° to its upper left this evening.

Bright Jupiter, moving eastward in Pisces near the Cetus border, is over one-third of the way up in the southwest.  The Jovian Giant moves into Cetus in two nights.

Beginning the 20th, Venus is within 10° of Jupiter.  Two planets are separated by the distance of your fist – from thumb to pinky finger – at arm’s length through March 11th.  This is a slow-moving event, but worth watching over several nights as the two brightest starlike bodies are close together.

The next easily-seen Venus-Jupiter conjunction occurs August 12, 2025, before sunrise.  These conjunctions are not rare.



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