May 25, 2023: After sundown, Venus, Mars and the crescent moon are in the western sky. Through a binocular Mars can be seen near the Beehive star cluster.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:22 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:13 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:
Two bright planets are visible in the eastern sky before daybreak. Saturn, the dimmer planet of the pair, is the highest and easiest to locate. Find it nearly 25° above the southeast horizon, one hour before the sun rises. It does not have the visual pizzazz as Venus or Jupiter, but it is one of the brightest starlike bodies in the sky this morning, outshined by Jupiter, Arcturus, Vega, Capella, and Altair.
Jupiter, nearly 20 times brighter than Saturn, is about 5° above the east-northeast at this hour. It is easily visible near the horizon, shining through the blush of morning twilight.
Mercury, rising about 30 minutes after Jupiter, is hidden in the glare of the approaching sunrise. It reaches its maximum rising time interval compared to sunrise in about ten days. Even at its best, the planet is a few degrees above the horizon at 30 minutes before sunrise. With longer twilight and a poorly placed location for the planet, this is the most unfavorable morning appearance of the year.
After sundown, Venus sparkles in the western sky. Unmistakably, it is the brightest starlike body in the sky. A frequent question, “What is that bright star in the west?” And the planet continues to brighten for the next month.
Venus is overtaking our planet and there is a geometric location relative to the sun and Earth where it is at its brightest. Technically this occurs when the planet is 40° from the sun, and it displays a crescent phase that is 27% illuminated. This occurs in the evening sky and before sunrise when Venus is west of the sun. The illuminated phase covers the greatest area on the sky and is technically named “the greatest illuminated extent.” (For a semi-technical article see this source.) For human eyes, the planet is very bright beginning June 29th and ending on July 19th.
The Evening Star is stepping eastward in front of Gemini, 5.5° below Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins. Venus is moving toward Mars, 13.5° to the upper left.
Mars is marching eastward in front of Cancer, nearly 11° to the upper left of Pollux. The Red Planet is fading in brightness, after its closest approach to Earth on November 30, 2022. This evening it is about as bright as Castor, the other Twin, although it might look dimmer.
Through a binocular, find Mars with the Beehive star cluster when the sky is darker, near the end of evening twilight. First locate Mars, then move it to the lower right portion of the field of view. The star cluster is visible to the upper left.
The Beehive is sometimes named “the Praesepe” or manger. To reinforce this idea, two donkeys are nearby – Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, one north and one south.
Astronomically, the star cluster is less than 600 light years away and appears larger than the moon in a dark, moonless location. Its actual diameter is less than 20 light years. The cluster has about 200 stars and a few dozen are visible through the binocular.
The moon, 35% illuminated, is about halfway up in the west-southwest. The lunar orb is in front of eastern Cancer and approaching Leo with its bright star Regulus.
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