June 8, 2023: Venus is nearing its period of greatest brightness. It casts shadows under favorable conditions. Before sunrise, the gibbous moon nears Saturn.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:16 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:24 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 gibbous moon, 77% illuminated, is in the south-southeast. It is over 20° to the lower right of Saturn.
The Ringed Wonder is over 20° above the southeast horizon. It rises nearly four and a half hours before sunrise. During the middle of twilight, it is high enough in the heavens and the sky is dark enough to see its rings and brighter moons through a telescope.
It is not bright like Venus or Jupiter, but Saturn is among the brightest stars in the sky this morning. The planets, shining by reflected sunlight, are starlike to the unassisted eye.
Bright Jupiter is over 10° above the eastern horizon at this hour. It is not high enough for clear telescopic observation. Its image is blurred and reddened by the thicker layer of atmosphere when viewed near the horizon. This is how the sun and moon appear orange when rising or setting, and they are considerably dimmer than when higher in the sky.
Incredibly bright Venus shines from the western sky after sundown. The Evening Star is over 20° above the horizon an hour after sundown. It is advancing eastward against Cancer, the seemingly dim region between Regulus, Leo’s brightest star, and Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins.
The Evening Star is 10.6° to the upper left of Pollux and 8.0° to the lower right of Mars. Mars marches eastward slower than Venus and the gap closes each evening.
Venus continues to brighten throughout the month, starting a period of greatest brightness on June 29th and lasting through July 17th. The planet is so bright that it can cast shadows. Unlike standing outside on an evening with a bright moon, seeing shadows cast by Venus needs some unique circumstances. An evening without the moon and no outdoor lighting are needed, a scene unlikely from urban or most suburban settings. In a darkened room facing westward, place a white sheet of paper or white bedsheet on the wall opposite the window. Allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness and look for shadows from objects outside the window. If the horizon is obstruction free, place a window cling or objects on the window sill to cast shadows. As twilight ends, look for shadows on the white screen; perhaps photograph the screen and look for the shadows. As Venus appears lower until it sets over three hours after sundown, the shadows should move higher up the screen.
As the sky darkens further, use a binocular to spot the Beehive star cluster in the same field with Mars or Venus. With the cluster at the center of the field, Mars is to the upper left. Then slightly shift the binocular to the lower right to bring Venus into the field, but Mars is outside the view.
The Venus-Mars gap shrinks each evening. Two nights away, Venus and Mars fit tightly into the same binocular field. On the 13th, Venus passes the Beehive.
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- 2023, December 24: Morning Moon, Pleiades, Antares Heliacal 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.