June 4, 2023: The star Fomalhaut has made news recently with a possible asteroid belt. It is visible to the lower right of Saturn before daybreak.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:17 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:21 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 Strawberry moon is in the southwestern sky after its all-night westward trek. The lunar orb is 6.1° to the upper left of Antares that is less than 5° above the horizon.
Farther eastward, Jupiter and Saturn shine through the blush of morning twilight. Bright Jupiter continues to emerge from bright twilight into a darker sky. This morning, the Jovian Giant is nearly 10° up in the east. Find a clear, unobstructed view in that direction.
Saturn is nearly 30° above the southeast horizon and about 20° to the upper left of the star Fomalhaut, meaning “the mouth of the southern fish.”
Fomalhaut is the subject of a recent NASA announcement from Webb Telescope data about a dusty debris disk that surrounds the planet. In the image above, the star is covered in the center of the view showing a ring of material around it. The material extends outward over 150 times Earth’s distance from the sun.
With infrared telescopes, our sun displays a simpler system that includes the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Saturn and the Kuiper belt of cold, smaller objects like Pluto. Whether Fomalhaut’s system has asteroids like Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and thousands of others is to be determined. For now, NASA’s public relations arm is calling this an asteroid belt. Perhaps, it might be nested sets of dusty rings. More study is needed.
Brilliant Venus and Mars shine from the west after sundown. Both planets are moving eastward in front of Cancer.
The Evening Star is over 20° above the western horizon and to the upper left of the Gemini Twins, Pollux and Castor, at one hour after sundown. On the accompanying chart, Cancer is the seemingly empty region between Pollux and Regulus, Leo’s brightest star.
Mars, about the brightness of Castor and considerably dimmer than Venus, is 9.4° to the upper left of Earth’s twin planet. The Red Planet seemed to pass through the Beehive star cluster, also known as the Praesepe or manger, two nights ago. Through a binocular the planet is 1.3° to the upper left of the cluster. Both are easily in the same binocular field of view. The stars Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis are two donkeys eating at the manger.
Two hours after sundown, the bright moon, 98% illuminated, is low in the southeastern sky, nearly 20° to the lower left of Antares.
With the moon rising later, begin looking for the dimmer stars in Cancer beginning tomorrow evening. In the moon’s absence, can you see the Beehive star cluster after twilight ends?
- 2023, December 24: Morning Moon, Pleiades, Antares Helical RisingDecember 24, 2023: The moon appears near the Pleiades star cluster during the earlier morning hours. Antares is at its first morning appearance, known as the heliacal rising.
- 2023, December 23: Check out Planet Uranus, Pleiades near MoonDecember 23, 2023: Look for the planet Uranus and the Pleiades star cluster through a binocular during nighttime hours.
- 2023, December 22: Mercury at Inferior Conjunction, Bright Jupiter, Gibbous MoonDecember 22, 2023: Mercury is between Earth and Sun, known as inferior conjunction. Jupiter and the gibbous moon are celestial companions during nighttime hours.
- 2023, December 21: Winter Solstice, Great Conjunction Plus 3 YearsDecember 21, 2023: Winter begins in the northern hemisphere. Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the evening sky three years after their Great Conjunction.
- 2023, December 20: Morning Star, Evening Moon Nears JupiterDecember 20, 2023: Brilliant Venus is in the southeast before daybreak. After nightfall the gibbous moon nears Jupiter in the southeast sky.