2023, March 19: Morning Milky Way Season, Evening Planets


March 19, 2023: Before sunrise, the Milky Way arches across the sky from the southern hemisphere.  Venus, Jupiter, and Mars are visible after sunset.

Photo Caption – This image shows the star-studded center of the Milky Way towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The crowded center of our galaxy contains numerous complex and mysterious objects that are usually hidden at optical wavelengths by clouds of dust — but many are visible here in these infrared observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Photo Credit: ESA, NASA)


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:56 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:02 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:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – Scorpius and Sagittarius are framed by the Milky Way during spring’s moonless mornings.

With the moon moving toward the New moon phase (March 21, 12:23 p.m. CDT) and the morning sky without any bright planets, the morning Milky Way season is emerging.  Social media will soon have photographers’ images of the Milky Way emerging from the southern horizon with picturesque vistas in the foreground.

During the next few months, when the moon is in the evening sky, while it is in the waxing phases, the Milky Way is on display from the southern horizon, arcing upward about halfway in the eastern sky, and plunging into the northern horizon.

The Sagittarius-Scorpius region in the south is typically the most attractive to many photographers.  The galaxy’s center is thought to be to the upper right of the spout of the Teapot of Sagittarius.  The galactic nucleus is hidden from human eyesight by clouds of dust, a myriad of stars, and glowing hydrogen clouds.  In addition to visible light, the nucleus produces radio waves and infrared energy that can be detected by vast arrays of telescopes, some of them on mountain tops and in space.

In a very dark location, allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness.  Follow the galaxy’s rim from the southern horizon northward. With a binocular, explore the Sagittarius and Scorpius area for many celestial wonders.

The moon is absent from the morning sky March 20-April 3; and April 18-May 3.  This region of the sky is visible during the summer months after the end of twilight.  With later sunsets from daylight time and a longer period of summer twilight, the sky may not be dark enough to see this until nearly the midnight hour.

Chart Caption – 2023, March 19: In a challenging view, Saturn and the lunar crescent are visible at the horizon through a binocular.

For Saturn aficionados awaiting its return to the morning sky after solar conjunction, the moon may guide you there this morning.  At 30 minutes before sunup, the Ringed Wonder is only 4° up in the east-southeast with the crescent moon, 7% illuminated, 5.5° to the lower right and close to the horizon.  Find a clear view look toward that direction.  In the accompanying chart, the horizon has been removed.  Through the binocular, place the horizon in the middle of the field of view and move the view slowly along the horizon.  This is a very challenging view and likely to be unsuccessful, but try it.

The sights in the evening sky are easier to see.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, March 19: Venus and Jupiter are in the western sky after sundown.

Mercury begins to climb into the evening sky, but it sets only 10 minutes after the sun.  For the next two weeks, it sets five to six minutes later each evening.  In two weeks, it can be found low in the western sky. On March 27th, Jupiter and Mercury are 1.3° apart.

Jupiter slips into brighter twilight each evening.  At forty-five minutes after sundown, it is over 5° above the western horizon. Find a clear view in that direction. 

Venus, about 25° up in the west and 17.5° to the upper left of Jupiter, continues to set later each evening. It is approaching a wide conjunction with Hamal, the brightest star in Aries, on the 23rd, and zips past Uranus on the 30th.

Chart Caption – 2023, March 19: Mars is high in the southwest, east of the bright markers in Taurus.

Mars is higher in the sky, marching eastward against Taurus and nearing the Gemini border.  It is east of the brighter markers in the Bull, 5.5° to the lower left of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn, and 4.9° above Zeta Tauri, the southern horn.  The Red Planet is 7.0° from Propus, Castor’s toe.

Mars is noticeably dimmer than it was a few weeks ago.  The distance to the planet from Earth continues to increase, diminishing Mars’ visual intensity.  It is distinctly dimmer than Capella to its upper right, and about the same brightness as Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.

Chart Caption – 2023, March 19: Through a binocular, Mars, Propus, and Messier 35 (M 35) are visible.

Through a binocular, Mars and Propus fit snugly on opposite ends of the field of view.  The star cluster Messier 35 (M 35 on the chart) is easily visible to Propus’ upper right.  The stars in the cluster resemble the blue stars in the Pleiades, although M 35 is over four times the Seven Sisters’ distance.    

With the binocular, watch Mars close in on the star cluster, passing 1.1° on the 29th.



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