February 19, 2023: Leo is in the western sky before sunrise, taking all night to go from east to west. After sundown, Evening Star Venus continues to approach bright Jupiter.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:41 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:29 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, 16:05 UT; Feb 20, 2:01 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:
Several bright stars shine from the morning sky, while it has no bright planets or the moon.
During the moon’s sidereal journey, it passes familiar stars and constellations. About two weeks ago, the bright moon passed Leo. This morning the constellation is tipping toward the western horizon.
Leo, with its bright star Regulus, is one of those constellations that looks like its namesake. We see the westward facing Lion in silhouette. The head is outlined by stars that resemble a backwards question mark and are traditionally called the “Sickle of Leo,” shaped after a farmer’s cutting tool.
At a distance of nearly 80 light years, Regulus – meaning “the prince” – is one hundred times brighter than the sun. It is the fifteenth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes.
Regulus is the closest bright star to the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. The moon passes through each month and each of the bright planets appear with it. During the summer, Mars passes by on July 10th. Venus is nearby, but it there is no conjunction with the star. When Venus appears in the morning sky later in the year, it passes Regulus on October 9th.
From Jupiter’s slow orbital motion, it does not pass Regulus until July 26, 2027. The next Saturn-Regulus conjunction does not occur until October 19, 2036!
The sickle and a triangle of three stars, higher and to the east, complete the animal. Denebola is the Lion’s tail.
Leo is nearly in the sky all night. Regulus is rising at the time of sunset. It appears in the south around midnight and in the west before sunup.
The planet show continues in the west-southwest after sunset. Venus is overtaking Jupiter. The two-brightest starlike bodies are near each other in the sky for the next three weeks. Tomorrow, Venus moves to within 10° of bright Jupiter preceding their conjunction on March 1st.
This evening look toward the west-southwest at forty-five minutes after sundown. Brilliant Venus is nearly 20° above the horizon, and 10.3° to the lower right of Jupiter.
While the pair seems close in the sky, they are millions of miles apart in space. This evening, Venus is 132 million miles away from Earth, but Jupiter is over 400 million miles beyond the Evening Star.
Jupiter returns to Pisces this evening after a short stint in Cetus. The Jovian Giant sets over three hours after sundown, while Venus disappears below the horizon an hour earlier.
This is a photogenic and artistic event with Venus and Jupiter shining through the blush of mid-twilight. The moon joins the scene on the 21st and 22nd. Capture them with a tripod-mounted camera and exposures up to a few seconds, especially to capture earthshine on the moon’s night portion.
Seemingly not to be outperformed, Mars marches eastward in Taurus. While not as bright as the western pair, it is high in the south-southeast, to the upper left of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. Wait for the sky to darken so that more background stars are visible.
The Red Planet is 9.8° to the upper left of Aldebaran and 7.2° to the upper right of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn. It passes Elnath on March 9th and Zeta Tauri, the southern horn, five nights later. On March 11th, it passes between the two horns.
Mars crosses into Gemini on March 26th.
At 8:01 p.m. CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere through a telescope. From Chicago, Jupiter is less than 10° above the horizon, unfavorable for viewing. Sky watchers in the western US see the planet higher and in clearer air.
- 2023, December 24: Morning Moon, Pleiades, Antares Helical RisingDecember 24, 2023: The moon appears near the Pleiades star cluster during the earlier morning hours. Antares is at its first morning appearance, known as the heliacal rising.
- 2023, December 23: Check out Planet Uranus, Pleiades near MoonDecember 23, 2023: Look for the planet Uranus and the Pleiades star cluster through a binocular during nighttime hours.
- 2023, December 22: Mercury at Inferior Conjunction, Bright Jupiter, Gibbous MoonDecember 22, 2023: Mercury is between Earth and Sun, known as inferior conjunction. Jupiter and the gibbous moon are celestial companions during nighttime hours.
- 2023, December 21: Winter Solstice, Great Conjunction Plus 3 YearsDecember 21, 2023: Winter begins in the northern hemisphere. Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the evening sky three years after their Great Conjunction.
- 2023, December 20: Morning Star, Evening Moon Nears JupiterDecember 20, 2023: Brilliant Venus is in the southeast before daybreak. After nightfall the gibbous moon nears Jupiter in the southeast sky.