2023, July 3:  Morning Buck Moon, Four Bright Planets


July 3, 2023: The Buck Moon is in the southwest during morning twilight.  Find Jupiter and Saturn before sunrise, and Venus and Mars after nightfall.

Photo Caption – 2022, March 28: A close bunching of Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the crescent moon.


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 5:21 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:29 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:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, July 3: The Buck Moon is in the southwest before sunrise.

An hour before sunrise, the Buck Moon is in the southwest after its all-night trek across the sky.  The Full moon phase officially occurs at 6:39 a.m. CDT, after the lunar orb sets in Chicago.

Chart Caption – 2023, July 3: Saturn is in the south before daybreak.

Farther eastward at this hour, Saturn is less than halfway up in the south.  It is retrograding – an illusion from our faster moving planet overtaking Saturn – in front of Aquarius’ dim stars.  The Ringed Wonder is 13.2° to the upper left of Deneb Alegdi – meaning “the kid’s tail” – in Capricornus and above Fomalhaut, that is about halfway from the horizon to Saturn.

Chart Caption – 2023, July 3: Jupiter is in front of Aries in the eastern sky during morning twilight.

Bright Jupiter – nearly 30° up in the east – is moving eastward in front of Aries, 11.2° to the lower right of Hamal, the constellation’s brightest star.

In the same region with the Jovian Giant, attempt the locate Menkar, Cetus’ nostril, below Jupiter, the Pleiades star cluster to the planet’s lower left, and Aldebaran near the east-northeast horizon.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, July 3: Venus, Mars and Regulus are in the western sky after nightfall.

Mercury is rapidly climbing into the evening sky, setting twenty minutes after the sun. The planet is gaining nearly five minutes of setting time compared to sunset each evening.  Mercury’s appearance is a challenge to see when it joins the evening planet shuffle with Venus and Mars. A binocular brings it into easy view.  The evening crescent moon joins the dance on the 19th and 20th.

Photo Caption – The crescent moon appears near Venus as the brilliant planet approaches the star Elnath.

Venus is that bright star in the western sky.  It is quickly overtaking our planet and appearing lower each evening. Tonight the planet sets at the end of twilight.  One hour after sunset, the Evening Star is over 10° above the horizon. the planet is 3.6° to the lower right of Mars, and 8.1° to the lower right of Regulus, Leo’s brightest star.

Leo is a westward facing Lion that is tipped toward the horizon at this hour.  We see the Lion in silhouette, outlined by a backwards question mark for the head that is connected to a triangle for the haunches and tail.

Mars, dimmer than might be expected, is slowly marching away from Venus toward a Regulus conjunction on the 10th.  Venus does not reach Regulus, but closes to 3.5° on the 16th and begins to retrograde on the 22nd.

Chart Caption – 2023, July 3-24: Venus’ and Mars’ motions relative to the Regulus and the ecliptic are displayed. Planet, Regulus, and ecliptic plots by Starry Night Pro 7.

In the sky, Mars appears to be marching toward Regulus, parallel to the plane of the solar system, known as the ecliptic.  Today, Venus crosses the ecliptic moving southward and angles below Regulus.  The accompanying chart shows the relative motions of Venus and Mars, compared to the ecliptic and Regulus.  It indicates the Mars-Regulus conjunction as well as the Venus-Regulus quasi-conjunction.  Venus eastern journey ends on the 22nd when it begins to retrograde, move westward compared to Regulus.

Venus is in its interval of greatest brightness.  During these evenings, the planet grows slightly in visual intensity, but it is undetectable to our eyes.  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also known as JPL, predicts that Venus’ brightest evening is July 12th.

Chart Caption – 2023, July 3: The bright gibbous moon is in the southeast at two hours after sundown.

Two hours after sunset, the bright moon, 99% illuminated, is low in the southeast.  Sagittarius, the background stars, is washed out by the bright moonlight.

For a point of reference, Pluto – the classic ninth planet demoted to dwarf planet status in the modern solar system model – is to the lower left of the moon.  Pluto is visible only through a telescope and the moonlight is too bright to find the incredibly dim planet.  Even the experienced sky watcher with a telescope needs a detailed star chart and a very dark sky to locate the distant world.

Continue to watch the western planet shuffle near Regulus after sundown.

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