2023, February 7: Morning Moon, Brilliant Venus, Jupiter

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February 7, 2023: The bright morning moon is in the west near Regulus before sunrise.  Venus and Jupiter are in the southwest after sunset.  Mars is in the southeast.

Photo Caption – 2019, March 2: This morning the crescent moon is over 4 degrees from Venus. Saturn and Jupiter appear to the upper right.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:57 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:13 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: 6:10 UT, 16:06 UT; Feb. 8, 2:02 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, February 7: The moon is in the western sky near Regulus before sunrise.

This morning the bright moon is in the west in front of Leo.  The lunar orb, 97% illuminated, is nearly 25° above the west horizon at an hour before sunrise.  It is 7.5° to the upper left of Regulus, the Lion’s brightest star, and over 17° to the lower right of Denebola – the tail.

Mercury is somewhat of a lost cause to see for it is immersed in bright morning twilight.  No bright stars are in the vicinity to assist with the planet’s location.  The solar system’s fastest planet rises 70 minutes before sunup.  Forty minutes later, Mercury is less than 6° above the southeast horizon, immersed in bright morning twilight and a challenge to see.

Sky watchers with computerized-telescope mounts could program their instruments to find Mercury.  Very experienced sky watchers might be able to locate the planet; though for most of us, the planet is nearly impossible to see.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, February 7: Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are in the southwest after sundown.

After sundown, Venus continues to slowly overtake Jupiter. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Venus is “that brilliant star,” nearly 15° up in the west-southwest.  It is over 22° to the lower right of Jupiter, the bright star to the upper left.

The gap between the planets closes about one degree each night.  Venus is catching the slower moving Jupiter, now moving eastward in Cetus.

Venus passes Jupiter on March 1st.  Beginning on the 20th, Venus is within 10° of Jupiter.  This slow-moving dance occurs across several nights, centering on the first day of March.

Look each clear evening to see the gap shrinking during this month. Capture the planets in a photograph with a tripod-mounted camera and exposures of a few seconds or less.

This evening Venus is 137 million miles away from Earth, while Jupiter is over 515 million miles distant.  Because we have no depth perception in space, the distances to the celestial objects are not easily perceived.

While the gap between Venus and Jupiter closes each evening, the Evening Star passes near Neptune on the 15th. This is a challenging observation because Neptune is a dim planet and the observation occurs during the middle of evening twilight.

Saturn is suffering the same lighting issue as Mercury, except the Ringed Wonder is in deep evening twilight, setting only 33 minutes after the sun.  The planet passes behind the sun on the 16th, beginning a slow climb into the eastern sky before daybreak.

Chart Caption – 2023, February 7: Mars is near Aldebaran and Elnath after sundown.

This evening, Mars is high in the southeast.  It is the third brightest planet in the sky tonight, but the fourth brightest “star” when Sirius is added to the ranking. The Dog Star is low in the east-southeast, likely twinkling wildly from the same atmospheric effects that blurs the view of a planet when near the horizon.

The Red Planet is marching eastward in Taurus, 8.3° to the upper left of Aldebaran, and 11.2° to the upper right of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn.  Mars is generally moving toward Elnath, passing it March 9th.

Jupiter (NASA Photo)

When Jupiter is less than 15° above the horizon from Chicago at 8:02 p.m. CST, the Great Red Spot is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere through a telescope.  For midwestern sky watchers, the planet’s low altitude – height above the horizon – is unfavorable for clear views of the planet.  Looking through a thicker layer of atmosphere near the horizon, the view tends to be smudged.  At times the planet seems to shimmer like when looking across a hot roadway.  Sky watchers farther westward have better views.

Chart Caption – 2023, February 7: Three hours after sundown, the moon is in the east below Regulus.

The moon is low in the east at three hours after sunset.  It is over 15° to the lower left of Regulus and nearly 11° to the upper right of Denebola.  During the night it appears farther westward with Earth’s rotation.  By tomorrow morning, it is in the western sky.

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