May 8, 2023: The morning gibbous moon is above the Scorpion’s stinger. Mars passes Pollux in a wide conjunction after nightfall.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:39 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:57 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location. Times are calculated by the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
An hour before sunrise, the bright waning gibbous moon, 91% illuminated, is less than 20° above the south-southwest horizon. It is in front of the constellation Ophiuchus, over 11° to the upper left of Antares, Scorpius’ brightest star. The lunar globe is between Scorpius and Sagittarius, the moon’s location tomorrow morning.
Look for Shaula, meaning “the cocked-up part of the scorpion’s tail,” and Lesath, “the scorpion’s sting,” nearly 10° to the lower left of the lunar orb. The stars are close to each other in the sky and are sometimes known as the Cat’s Eyes.
Saturn is farther eastward, about 20° above the southeast horizon at forty-five minutes before daybreak. It continues to appear higher in the sky each morning. The Ringed Wonder rises nearly two hours, forty-five minutes before the sun.
The planet is among the brightest stars in the sky during the morning hours, about the same brightness as Antares, although it is not flashy bright like Jupiter or Venus.
Jupiter continues its emergence from bright morning sunlight. It rises about two hours after Saturn. Not yet appearing in dimmer twilight, the Jovian Giant is less than 3° above the east-northeast horizon at thirty minutes before daybreak.
Speedy Mercury is buried in brighter sunlight, appearing above the horizon only twenty minutes before the sun. At its best, it is a challenge to see when it appears low in the eastern sky next month.
Brilliant Venus is “that bright star” in the western sky after sundown. Setting over two hours, thirty minutes after nightfall, the Evening Star is stepping eastward in front of Gemini. The planet is near Castor’s foot, 4.1° to the upper right of Propus – the toe – also known as Eta Geminorum (η Gem).
Through a binocular, Venus is near the star cluster cataloged as Messier 35 (M 35 on the chart), 1.9° to the lower left of the planet.
The star cluster might be visible to the unassisted eye in a location removed from outdoor lighting. To locate it, place Venus at the center of the field of view. The cluster is to the lower left. Then move the binocular so that the cluster is centered for the best view. Mars passed through this region during late March.
Mars, marching eastward, is 5.0° to the lower left of Pollux. The Red Planet passes the star in a wide conjunction this evening.
Mars is considerably dimmer than when it was closest to Earth on November 30, 2022. Moving on an inside orbital track, our planet moved away from Mars. The increasing distance dimmed Mars in the sky. Tonight, it is fainter than Pollux, but brighter than Castor.
In comparison, Venus is brightening as it slowly overtakes our planet. This evening, Venus is 86 million miles away while Mars is nearly twice that distance. The brightness difference is affected by the size of the planets and their reflective properties. Venus is larger and its clouds reflect nearly three times more light than Mars dusty and rocky surface. This combination makes Venus nearly 200 times brighter than Mars this evening.
The Venus-Mars gap is nearly 22° this evening and shrinking each night. When does the Venus-Mars conjunction occur? Stay tuned, we’ll count down the nights.
- 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.