March 22, 2023: A half dozen bright stars in the sky before sunrise. After sundown, the thin lunar crescent is near Jupiter and below the Evening Star.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:51 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:05 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 sky has the appearance of the summer evening sky during late July and early August. Scorpius and Sagittarius are in the southern sky. The Scorpion’s brightest star, Antares, is low in the south, west of the south cardinal point. Bright Arcturus, with its constellation Boötes, is over halfway up in the west-southwest. Spica, lower than Antares, is in the southwest. The Summer Triangle, with Vega, Altair, and Deneb, is in the eastern sky.
These half dozen stars are among the fifteen brightest stars visible from the mid-northern latitudes. Here are some characteristics of these stars:
|Star Name||Brightness Ranking-Visible from mid-Northern Latitudes||Distance from the sun (light years)||Brightness compared to Sun|
Saturn climbs into the morning sky after superior conjunction last month. It is a challenging observation with a binocular. It is over 5° above the east-southeast horizon at 30 minutes before sunup.
Mercury races into the evening sky for its best evening appearance of the year next month. Still setting in brighter twilight, it reaches the horizon twenty-six minutes after sundown. It sets five to six minutes later each evening.
The crescent moon returns to the evening sky, near Jupiter. At forty-five minutes after sunset, Jupiter is over 5° above the horizon with a razor-thin moon, 2% illuminated, 1.8° to its upper left.
Look carefully for the moon. A binocular helps with the view of the incredibly slim lunar crescent. With this optical assist, look for the pair as early as 30 minutes after sundown, when they are a little higher in the sky. Jupiter is bright enough to be seen at this level of twilight.
Earlier today, during the evening in South America, the moon covered or occulted Jupiter.
At this hour, brilliant Venus is nearly 25° above the western horizon, 20.4° to the upper left of Jupiter. The Evening Star steps eastward faster than Jupiter and opens the gap between them about 1° each evening. The planet is approaching a wide conjunction with Hamal, the brightest star in Aries, tomorrow evening. This evening Venus is 9.5° to the lower left of the star.
While Venus opens a gap on Jupiter, it is slowly closing a very wide gap to Mars, over 50° to the upper left of Earth’s Twin planet.
Mars is marching eastward in front of Taurus, near the Gemini border. It is 6.7° to the upper left of Elnath, the Bull’s northern horn, 5.7° above Zeta Tauri, the southern horn, and 5.8° to the lower right of Propus, Castor’s toe. The Red Planet steps into Gemini on the 26th.
Through a binocular, Mars and Propus are in the same starfield, along with a star cluster catalogued as Messier 35 (M 35) on the chart. It has bluish stars like those in the Pleiades, indicating that the two stellar bundles are about 150 million years old. Messier 35 appears dimmer because it is about four times the Pleiades’ distance. It can be seen from a dark location without a binocular.
PODCAST FOR THIS ARTICLE
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- 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.
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