February 26, 2023: As the Venus-Jupiter conjunction nears, the two planets are close in the west-southwest after sundown. The moon is near the Pleiades star cluster during the evening.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:31 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:37 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: 6:59 UT, 16:55 UT; Feb. 27, 2:51 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:
Before sunrise several bright stars are scattered across the sky. Bright Spica, the tenth brightest star visible from mid-northern latitudes, is nearly one-third of the way up in the sky in the southwest.
When the Full moon appears near Spica, that’s a sure sign that spring has arrived. This year this occurs on the night of April 5/6. Spica rises near the time of sunset on that evening.
At a distance of 250 light years, the blue-white star shines with intensity of 200 suns.
Spica is part of Virgo, a non-descript constellation looking more like a letter “Y”, is between Leo to the west and Scorpius to the east. At this time, the letter is tipped westward.
The two morning planets are bathed in bright twilight before sunrise. Mercury rises only 26 minutes before the sun and Saturn follows about 10 minutes later. Mercury is moving toward superior conjunction, then its best evening appearance of the year during April.
Saturn is emerging from its solar conjunction into a darker sky, becoming visible during later morning twilight about the time of the equinox.
The bright planet show continues in the west-southwest after sundown. Brilliant Venus is overtaking bright Jupiter; the two brightest starlike bodies are within 4° of each other in the sky.
This is a cannot miss event. Step outside about 45 minutes after sundown. The Evening Star is about 20° above the west-southwest horizon. Its brightness competes with the intensity of lights on low-flying aircraft.
Jupiter, noticeably dimmer than its planetary neighbor, is 3.2° to the upper left of Venus. It is slowing moving eastward in front of Pisces.
Venus takes one step into Cetus this evening as it approaches the Jovian Giant.
Venus passes closely to Jupiter on March 1st, thensteps away each evening. Venus is within 10° of Jupiter until March 11th, leaving the Jovian Wonder in its celestial dust.
The moon, 47% illuminated and approaching the First Quarter moon phase, is high in the south, approaching Mars with Taurus.
The moon and the Pleiades star cluster are in the same binocular field of view. They are 4.5° apart and easily fit into the field.
If the moon is too bright, move the binocular slightly so that the cluster is in view without the lunar glare. The cluster has a few hundred members, although a few dozen are visible in the binocular’s view. Notice the stars’ blue-white color.
Mars is marching eastward in front of the constellation, approaching the Bull’s northern horn, Elnath. This evening Mars, high in the south at one hour after sundown, is nearly 15° from the moon and 5.4° to the lower right of Elnath.
- 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.