March 16, 2023: The morning crescent moon is seen against the Teapot’s handle stars. After sundown, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars are easily visible as spring nears.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:01 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:58 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location. Times are calculated from the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Here is today’s planet forecast:
The crescent moon, 32% illuminated, is less than 15° above the south-southeast horizon at one hour before sunrise. The moon seems to be in the handle of The Teapot of Sagittarius. The pot is part of the formal constellation.
The stars of the handle are made by Nunki, Phi Sagittarii (φ Sgr on the chart), Ascella – meaning “the armpit” – and Tau Sagitarii (τ Sgr).
Earlier this morning, the moon covered or occulted Phi Sagittarii for sky watchers in southern South America.
Use a binocular to see the lunar orb within the handle. At this time earthshine is visible on the lunar orb’s night portion.
The effect, from reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land, is visible to the unassisted eye as well. Look for it on the moon during the next few mornings.
In addition to earthshine, look for a star cluster, catalogued as Messier 54 (M 54 on the chart). Resembling a tiny cotton ball, it is 1.7° to the right of Ascella. These clusters are different from the Pleiades and similar stellar bundles. While the galactic clusters, like the Pleiades, are in the arms of the Milky Way, the globular star clusters revolve around the galactic center outside the plane. Messier 54 is thought to be about 50,000 light years away. The region around Sagittarius and Scorpius is rife with star clusters, dark clouds, and gently luminescent gas clouds ready for exploration with a binocular.
Mercury is one day from its superior conjunction, on the far arc of its solar orbit. It quickly moves into the evening sky for its best evening appearance of the year next month.
Saturn is slowly emerging from bright morning twilight. Rising this morning nearly 50 minutes before daybreak, it is only 3° above the east-southeast horizon at 30 minutes before the sun rises. Because it is dimmer than Venus, Jupiter, and Mars, the planet is whitewashed by the light of approaching dawn.
While not a bright planet, Neptune is at solar conjunction today. It returns to the morning sky and it becomes visible through a binocular later during the spring.
Venus and Jupiter shine from the western sky after sundown. At forty-five minutes after sunset, Venus is nearly 25° above the western horizon, and 14.6° to the upper left of bright Jupiter. Over two weeks after their close conjunction, the gap between the two planets opens about 1° each evening.
Venus sets later each evening compared to sunset, while Jupiter sets four minutes earlier. This evening, the Jovian Giant sets 96 minutes after sundown, a few minutes before the end of evening twilight. Beginning tomorrow evening, it sets before twilight’s last gleaming. This evening Venus follows Jupiter to the horizon nearly eighty minutes after the solar system’s largest planet.
Jupiter disappears into bright sunlight near month’s end, while Venus continues to set later. Earth’s Twin planet sets at its latest time interval compared to sunset during early May, setting 223 minutes after the sun.
Mars is higher in the southwest, marching eastward against Taurus. The planet is higher in the sky than most of the Winter Congregation – Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Procyon, Pollux, Castor, Capella, and Aldebaran. The stars in the Milky Way’s Orion region are shifted westward as the evening begins during these final days of winter, seemingly led by the Pleiades.
Mars has dimmed considerably since its closest distance to Earth that occurred on November 30, 2022. It is dimmer than Capella, to its upper right, and slightly brighter than Aldebaran, nearly 18° to its lower right.
This evening the Red Planet is noticeably east of an imaginary line extended between the Bull’s horns. It is 4.4° to the lower left of Elnath, the northern horn, and 4.5° to the upper left of Zeta Tauri, the southern horn.
The planet is nearing the Taurus-Gemini border, crossing into the Twins’ constellation on the 26th.
- 2023, October 21: Three Bright Planets, First Quarter MoonOctober 21, 2023: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to locate during nighttime hours. The First Quarter moon phase occurs this evening.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.