March 23, 2023: After sundown, a striking lunar crescent is near Venus. Jupiter is lower in the sky, while Mars approaches Gemini.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:49 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:06 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:
Saturn is emerging from bright sunlight into a darker morning sky. This morning at 30 minutes before sunrise, it is over 5° abo
Summaries of Current Sky Events
ve the east-southeast horizon. An optical assist from a binocular or telescope is needed to see it. Each morning, it rises earlier and becomes easier to see without optical help.
Mercury, like Saturn, is entering a darker sky, but after sundown. It is moving toward its best evening appearance of the year during April. This evening, it sets over thirty minutes after sunset, leaving the sky five to six minutes later each evening.
By forty-five minutes after sundown, a striking crescent moon, 6% illuminated, is 5.9° below Venus that is about 25° above the western horizon. The Evening Star is quickly stepping eastward, passing 9.5° to the lower left of the Hamal, the brightest star in Aries.
Hamal is about the same brightness as the stars in the Big Dipper. Look for it carefully. Venus is too far away to fit into the same binocular field of view with the star in this widely-space conjunction.
Venus and the lunar crescent are in the same binocular field.
The moon shows earthshine, reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land, on the lunar nightside. This is visible to the unassisted eye and it can be photographed with a tripod-mounted camera with exposures up to a few seconds.
At this hour, bright Jupiter is less than 4° above the western horizon, and 21.4° to the lower right of Venus. The Jovian Giant is slipping into brighter evening twilight. Many planets are not visible at this altitude – height above the horizon – but bright Jupiter is easy to see if the horizon is unobstructed.
Venus is shortening a wide gap to Mars, over 50° to the upper left of the Earth’s Twin planet. Mars is marching eastward in Taurus, near the Gemini border. The Red Planet steps into the next constellation on the 26th.
This evening, Mars is 7.2° to the upper left of Elnath, Taurus’ northern horn, 6.0° above Zeta Tauri, the southern horn, and 5.4° to the lower right of Propus, Castor’s toe.
Note Alhena, meaning “the brandmark, over 15° to Mars’ left. It is the 44th brightest star visible from Earth. Shining from a distance of 110 light years, it is nearly 160 times brighter than our sun.
Mars is dimming as Earth pulls away on our inside orbital pathway. It was brightest when the two planets were closest on November 30, 2022. Tonight, Mars is dimmer than Capella, to its upper right, but brighter than Castor and Pollux, to the upper left and nearly overhead.
Through a binocular spot Mars and Propus. The star cluster, catalogued as Messier 35 (M 35 on the chart) is between the planet and the star. Each evening Mars moves closer to the stellar bundle. During the next week watch Mars close in and pass M 35 as well as 1 Geminorum (1 Gem on the chart). Look for the star cluster before the moon’s phase grows too bright and whitewashes the sky and dimmer celestial wonders with its light.
Messier 35 is a star cluster with blue stars, like those in the Pleiades star cluster, placing its age around 150 million years. It is dimmer than the Seven Sisters because it is over four times farther away.
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