March 18, 2023: The thin crescent moon appears in the southeast before sunrise. Mars marches eastward against Taurus, near the Gemini border. Venus and Jupiter are in the western sky after sundown.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:58 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:00 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:
Before sunrise, the waning crescent moon, 15% illuminated, is near the horizon in the southeastern sky. The New moon phase occurs after the noon hour on the 21st.
This morning, look for earthshine on the night portion of the moon. With brighter morning twilight, a binocular is helpful to see the effect from sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land.
One of the bright planets, Saturn is emerging from bright morning twilight after solar conjunction. It is still tucked near the horizon. At 30 minutes before sunrise, it is less than 4° above the east-southeast horizon.
For Saturn aficionados, the Ringed Wonder and the crescent moon are in the same binocular field tomorrow morning. A clear unobstructed horizon is needed to try to see this.
Jupiter slowly slips into brighter evening twilight. Nearly three weeks after the conjunction with Venus, the Jovian Giant is less than 10° above the western horizon at 45 minutes after sunset. Unlike Saturn, Mercury, and Mars, Jupiter can be seen near the horizon during brighter twilight. Its disappearance from the evening sky, though, occurs quickly near month’s end. It passes solar conjunction and then emerges from twilight into the morning sky during May.
This evening, brilliant Venus, nearly 25° up in the west, is 16.5° to the upper left of Jupiter. The Evening Star sets later each night, now nearly three hours after sundown.
Notice the star Hamal, over 11° to the upper right of Venus. The star is about the same brightness as those in the Big Dipper. It is the brightest star in Aries. Venus passes it in a wide conjunction on the 23rd.
Mars is higher in the southwest, over 54° to the upper left of Venus. The Red Planet is marching eastward in Taurus toward the Gemini boarder, 5.1° to the left of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn, and 4.8° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri, the southern horn.
Mars is dimming from the increasing distance between Earth and the planet. It is dimmer than the star Capella, to its upper right, and about the same brightness as Aldebaran, the brightest Taurus star, 18.5° to it lower right. The planet is 7.5° to the lower right of Propus, Castor’s toe.
The star cluster Messier 35 (M 35 on the chart) is 2.3° to the upper right of Propus. The stellar bunch is visible to the unaided eye in a dark location. It is about four times the distance of the Pleiades star cluster and its bluish stars, like those in the Seven Sisters, indicate the age of both clusters is about 150 million years.
In a binocular, place Mars toward the right side of the view. The star cluster appears near the left edge of the field. Mars is too far away to include Propus in the view. With Mars’ eastward march, all three fit into the same field of view beginning tomorrow evening.
- 2023, October 23: Venus at Greatest ElongationOctober 23, 2023: Venus moves to its farthest angular distance from the sun today, known as greatest elongation. During morning twilight, the Morning Star passes Leo’s Chertan.
- 2023, October 22: Moon Approaches SaturnOctober 22, 2023: During evening hours, the gibbous moon nears Saturn in the southern sky. Venus and Jupiter are visible during morning twilight.
- 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.