May 16, 2023: Jupiter and the star Fomalhaut are making their first appearances before daybreak. After sundown, Mars aligns with Castor and Pollux.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:30 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:05 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:
Jupiter and the star Fomalhaut are making their first morning appearances in the eastern sky before daybreak. At forty-five minutes before sunrise, first locate the crescent moon, 12% illuminated, less than 10° above the eastern horizon.
At this level of twilight some earthshine might be visible on the moon’s night portion. The effect is from sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land. This light gently illuminates the lunar night. At this time interval before sunrise, the sky is brightening, likely overwhelming earthshine.
Bright Jupiter is less than 5° above the horizon, nearly 15° to the lower left of the lunar crescent. The planet is slowly making its way into the morning sky. It is considerably brighter than Saturn.
The Ringed Wonder is over 20° above the southeast horizon and nearly the same distance to the upper left of Fomalhaut, meaning “the mouth of the southern fish.”
Fomalhaut is the 13th brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes and slightly dimmer than Saturn. It is about 25 light years from the solar system and nearly 20 times brighter than our sun.
At this altitude – height above the horizon – the star is fainter than when it is higher in the sky. When we see celestial objects near the horizon, we are looking through a thick layer of air than when they are higher. Toward the horizon, we are looking through dust and haze that tends to blur and dim the sun, moon, planets and stars. Its filtering effect reddens the sun and moon, especially allowing direct observation of the sun without any eye protection.
Depending on the local circumstances, haze, clouds, and other sky clarity factors, Fomalhaut may not be visible without a binocular’s optical assist.
Mercury is making its way toward the morning sky for an unfavorable appearance next month. This morning it rises less than forty-minutes before the sun; it is lost in sunlight when it is higher above the horizon.
The moon nears the New moon phase on the 19th at 4:53 p.m. CDT. Tomorrow morning, it is near Jupiter. From across the U.S., Canada, and Greenland, the lunar disk occults or eclipses the Giant Planet.
Brilliant Venus stands about one-third of the way up in the sky from horizon to overhead during the early evening. It steps eastward against Gemini’s distant stars, 0.7° to the upper right of Mebsuta, also known as Epsilon Geminorum (ε Gem on the chart).
Venus is visible in the west until nearly midnight, three hours, forty minutes after nightfall, for Chicago area sky watchers. For those in the western regions of time zones, the planet sets after midnight.
Venus is slowly overtaking Mars, nearly 18° to its upper left and 6.7° to the left of Pollux, one of the Twins.
Later during twilight when the side-by-side Gemini stick figures are visible, the two evening planets stand against that celestial backdrop.
The Red Planet is aligned with Pollux and Castor, the other Twin, this evening. Mars is on an imaginary line from Castor and extended through Pollux.
Tomorrow evening, Mars continues its eastward march, entering the boundary of dim Cancer.
- 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.