June 16, 2023: Mercury and the crescent moon appear together before sunrise. After sundown, Venus and Mercury are in the western sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:15 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:28 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:
This morning, bright Jupiter is about 15° above the eastern horizon at one hour before daybreak. It continues to emerge from bright sunlight into a darker morning sky. The planet is slowly moving eastward in front of Aries; Hamal, the constellation’s brightest star, is 11.2° to Jupiter’s upper left.
This morning the crescent moon, 3% illuminated, is very low in the east-northeast, nearly 30° to Jupiter’s lower left. Find a clear horizon in that direction and use a binocular.
The crescent moon appears in the same binocular field as the Pleiades star cluster, 4.7° to the upper right of the moon and nearly 10° above the horizon. The cluster might be visible to the unassisted eye. If you can see it without the binocular’s help, then you can put it in the upper right portion of the field of view. Then the moon appears to the lower left.
At this hour, Saturn is in the south-southeast, about one-third of the way up in the sky from the horizon to overhead, corresponding to 30°. The planet is slowly moving eastward in front of Aquarius.
Fomalhaut, meaning the mouth of the southern fish, is about 20° to Saturn’s lower right and nearly 15° above the horizon.
Watch the moon rise higher through the binocular. By 30 minutes before sunrise, Mercury is nearly 4° above the horizon and 4.9° to the lower left of the lunar crescent. On these mornings when an object is difficult to locate, I note its location compared to distant tree or building. When I return to view the body again, I find the distant reference point and then look for the object.
This is the last call for Mercury for this appearance or apparition. This morning’s view is a challenge but possible. The planet retreats farther into bright sunlight, passing superior conjunction on July 1st and moving toward an unfavorable viewing period in the western evening sky.
Evening Star Venus shines from the western sky during evening twilight. An hour after sundown it is nearly 20° up in the west. It is about midway from Pollux, a Gemini Twin, and Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. The planet is stepping eastward in front of Cancer. Cancer’s stars are difficult to see from the lights in urban and suburban settings.
Mars, dimmer than Venus and about the brightness of Castor, the other Twin, is 5.6° to the upper left of Venus. It is marching eastward, less than 15° to the lower right of Regulus.
The Venus-Mars gap continues to close, but Venus’ eastward rate is slowing. Venus never overtakes Mars. The closest approach, 3.6° occurs on July 29th. Mars passes Regulus on July 10th. Venus stops short of the star; the closest approach is 3.5° on July 16th.
Through a binocular, Venus and Mars are in the same field of view. Shift the view so that Venus is near the center of the field. The Beehive cluster, also known as Praesepe or manger, is to the lower right of the field of view.
From a location free from outdoor lighting Cancer’s dimmer stars are visible to the unaided eye as well as the Beehive. The cluster appears much larger than a Full moon.
Even knowing that Venus does not pass Mars, watch Venus slow its eastward pace and fall short of a conjunction during the next several evenings.