February 22, 2023: After sundown, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon gather in the west-southwest. Look for them at 45 minutes after the sun sets.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:37 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:32 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: 3:41 UT, 13:36 UT, 23:32 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.
This evening Venus, Jupiter, and the moon are in the same region of the sky. They are the three brightest nighttime spectacles. On occasion, Mars is brighter than Jupiter when the Red Planet is near Earth. Jupiter, though, is consistently brighter than Mars.
As described in the evening section, the gathering of the three celestial bodies occurs in the west-southwest after sundown. How frequently does this occur and are they ever really close together?
Two nights ago, Venus moved to within 10° of Jupiter and stays in that range until March 11. For nearly three weeks the two are near each other. In that range the lunar orb completes a large arc in its orbital path. So, there’s a fairly large probability that the three appear close together.
This evening the three nearly fit into a binocular field of view. Venus and Jupiter are at the extreme edges of the field with a piece of the crescent. The entire moon and Jupiter fit, but not three of them.
One manner to classify a grouping is to consider the smallest circle that contains the three. A binocular makes a circular image, not the mask effect shown in the movies. Two eyes look at the same region of the sky not two adjacent spots. Looking through a cardboard tube restricts the field to different sizes by using different lengths.
The moon does not appear as a point of light like Venus and Jupiter. Its diameter is an added factor.
To consider the question, a survey was conducted of future Venus-Jupiter conjunctions, along with their visibilities. Four conjunctions occur too close to the sun for reasonable observation and excluded. Next, gatherings of the three objects were surveyed near the times of the conjunctions.
The survey was further constrained by measuring the size of the gathering for Chicago, Illinois, at about 45 minutes after sundown. The smallest circle column is for this location, but a reasonable starting point for anywhere in the Americas.
The list below summarizes the future conjunctions and related gatherings.
|Conjunction Date||Gathering Date||Time||Smallest Circle|
|March 1, 2023||February 22, 2023||Evening||7.6°|
|May 23, 2024||Too close to sun|
|August 12, 2025||August 20, 2025||Morning||8.9°|
|June 9, 2026||June 17, 2026||Evening||7.4°|
|August 25, 2027||Too close to sun|
|November 9, 2029||November 14, 2029||Morning||10.7°|
|September 8, 2029||September 10, 2029||Evening||7.6°|
|November 20, 2030||Too close to sun|
|February 6, 2032||February 9, 2032||Morning||7.7°|
|December 7, 2032||December 5, 2032||Evening||9.5°|
|February 22, 2034||February 19, 2034||Evening||3.4°|
|May 17, 2035||Too close to sun|
|March 25, 2036||March 30, 2036||Evening||12.2°|
|July 22, 2036||July 20, 2036||Morning||4.9°|
The smallest circle, 3.4°, in the near future occurs on February 22, 2034. However, the moon is less than 1% illuminated and near the sun. Only 20 minutes after sundown, a binocular and a very clear sky are needed.
At the July 20, 2036 gathering, Venus, Jupiter, and the crescent moon are well up in the eastern sky during morning twilight. They cover a circle 4.9° in diameter and easily fit into a binocular. This occurs near Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster in Taurus. The bright star is 4.1° to the upper right of Venus.
Gatherings of the three bodies are not rare, occurring about every other year. Certainly, they are more frequent than US presidential elections or the Olympics. Seeing them gather closely, within a binocular field of view is a rare event. Mark your calendar for the July 20, 2036 gathering!
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
The morning sky is without a bright planet. Mercury continues its slide into sunlight. Only rising thirty-two minutes before the sun, the speedy planet is washed out by the light of approaching daybreak.
This evening the gathering of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon occurs in the west-southwest after sundown. Brilliant Venus is about 20° above the horizon at 45 minutes after the sun sets. Bright Jupiter is 7.2° to the upper left of Venus.
The crescent moon, 10% illuminated, is 1.3° to the lower left of Jupiter.
The moon’s night portion is showing the gentle light of earthshine, sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds and land.
Capture this scene with a tripod-mounted camera with exposures ranging from a fraction of a second up to a few seconds.
Venus continues to overtake Jupiter at about 1° each night, passing by on March 1st. Watch this changing scene each clear evening with Venus closing the gap and the moon moving away.
High in the south, Mars is marching eastward with Taurus in the sidereal background. Watch it pass between Elnath and Epsilon Tauri (ε Tau on the chart) during the next few evenings. Elnath and Epsilon Tauri are too far apart to fit into a binocular field, but an optical assist may be needed to identify the second star.
The Red Planet is heading toward Elnath, passing by next month.
Mars is 10.4° to the upper left of Aldebaran and 6.7° to the lower right of Elnath.
At 5:32 p.m. CST, the time of sunset in Chicago, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. This is not a good time for Chicago area sky watchers, but those farther eastward see the planet in an ideal spot.
The Red Spot viewing season is nearing its end as Jupiter starts lower in the sky each evening. In about a month, the planet is low in the western sky and setting during evening twilight.
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