February 9, 2023: The morning moon is in front of Virgo. Three bright planets are in the evening sky. Venus approaches Jupiter in the west-southwest. Mars is marching eastward with Taurus in the southeastern sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:54 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:16 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: 7:49 UT, 17:45 UT, Feb. 10, 3:41 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:
During morning twilight, the bright gibbous moon is in the southwest in front of Virgo. At an hour before daybreak, the lunar orb is 4.2° to the upper left of Zavijava and over 20° to the right of the constellation’s brightest star, Spica.
This evening the moon covers or occults Porrima from South America. This morning the star is 9.1° to the upper left of the moon. For southern hemisphere sky watchers, see this resource about times when the moon blocks the star and then unblocks it.
Immersed in bright morning twilight, Mercury is moving from the morning sky toward its best evening appearance of the year. It passes on the far arc of its solar orbit, superior conjunction, on March 17th and then into the western evening sky.
This morning, Mercury rises sixty-four minutes before daybreak. About thirty minutes later, it is only 5° above the southeast horizon, not visible for practical observing.
Like Mercury, Saturn is moving toward conjunction with the sun on February 16, setting only twenty-four minutes after the sun this evening. It is moving toward the morning sky, first emerging from bright morning twilight around the time of the equinox.
Brilliant Venus continues to close the gap to Jupiter after sunset. At 45 minutes after sundown, the Evening Star is nearly 15° above the west-southwest skyline. It is the brightest starlike body in the sky, shining through the blush of western evening twilight.
Bright Jupiter is 20.6° to the upper left of Venus. The Jovian Giant is slowly moving eastward in front of Cetus. It moves slower eastward than Venus.
The conjunction occurs on March 1st.
Mars, the third bright planet in the sky this evening is high in the southeast, 8.4° to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.
Look again about 90 minutes after sundown, after evening twilight ends. Taurus is easier to spot in the south-southeast.
By five hours after sunset (after 10 p.m. CST in Chicago) the moon is over 10° above the east-southeast horizon.
Readers and podcast listeners might be familiar with an online artificial intelligence (AI) program called ChatGPT. A “conversation” of sorts occurs by typing questions or statements on the web site. Remember AI programs are not inherently intelligent without a large number of inquiries feeding it accurate information. So, while in an early version has been unleashed on the Internet, I asked it some astronomy questions.
The first inquiry, “Where can I find Venus and Jupiter in the sky on February 9, 2023?
“Venus and Jupiter are bright planets that can be seen in the sky with the naked eye. On February 9, 2023, Venus and Jupiter will be visible in the western sky after sunset. Venus will be the brightest object in that area of the sky, and Jupiter will be visible nearby. The two planets will be relatively close to each other, and will be easily visible together in the same field of view of a pair of binoculars or a telescope. You could use planetarium apps or website to get more accurate information about the planet’s visibility on the sky at a specific location, date and time. It will give you more details on the position, azimuth, altitude and more. It’s important to remember that the visibility of these objects can be affected by factors such as light pollution, weather conditions, and the observer’s location. It would be best to check the forecast of the sky conditions on the day you want to observe.”
The analysis: Yes, they are generally in the western sky. No, the planets are not in the same field of view of a binocular and certainly not a telescope on February 9th.
The second inquiry, “Tell me about the Venus-Jupiter conjunction, March 1, 2023.”
“On March 1, 2023, Venus and Jupiter will have a conjunction in the night sky. This means that the two planets will appear very close to each other, as seen from Earth. The exact time of the conjunction will vary depending on your location, but in general, the planets will be visible in the western sky shortly after sunset.
“During a conjunction like this, the planets will not actually be close together in space, but will only appear to be close from our perspective on Earth. The planets will be separated by about 0.3 degrees in the sky, which is about two-thirds the size of the Moon. It’s considered a rare event and it would be a great chance for observing for astronomical enthusiasts, hobbyist and general public as well.”
Analysis: A conjunction is a singular event. Depending on a sky watcher’s location, the closest approach for that location may be before or after the actual conjunction. On March 1st, sky watchers in the Chicago region see Venus and Jupiter 0.6° apart, slightly larger than the Full moon.
It’s not a rare event like five planets in order from the sun in the evening sky or morning sky, a great conjunction, or the appearance of Comet Halley.
The website cannot do astronomical calculations, tell you today’s date, or even tell the time of today’s sunrise or sunset, but it can do simple calculations like that of a calculator and solve simple calculus problems.
So much for current artificial intelligence.
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- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.
- 2023, October 16: Venus in Starry ConjunctionOctober 16, 2023: Venus passes a star in Leo before sunrise. A crescent moon is low in the western sky during evening twilight.
- 2023, October 16-22: Celestial Events for the WeekOctober 16-22, 2023: The moon returns to the evening sky. Venus steps eastward in front of Leo, and a meteor shower is visible.
- 2023, October 15: Three Bright PlanetsOctober 15, 2023: Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are visible before sunrise. Saturn is above the southeast horizon after sundown.