July 9, 2023: This evening, look for a rare close gathering of Venus, Mars, and Regulus in the western sky after sundown. The three are not this close again until 2053!
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:24 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:27 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
SUMMARY FOR VENUS AS AN EVENING STAR
Here is today’s planet forecast:
The slightly gibbous moon, 58% illuminated, is over 40° above the southeast horizon at one hour before daybreak. The morning half-moon (Last Quarter) occurs at 8:48 p.m. CDT when the moon is below the horizon in the Americas. This morning the moon is midway between bright Jupiter in the east and Saturn in the south.
Jupiter is over 30° above the eastern horizon and 32° to the lower left of the lunar orb. It is moving slowly eastward, 11.4° to the lower right of Hamal, Aries’ brightest star.
Saturn, dimmer than Jupiter, is nearly 40° above the southern horizon and over 30° to the lower right of the moon. The Ringed Wonder is slowly retrograding, an illusion that the planet is moving westward compared to the starry background, in front of Aquarius.
This evening brilliant Venus, Mars, and Regulus make a small grouping that fits into a circle 4.7° in diameter and easily into a binocular’s field of view.
Venus is “that bright star” in the west after sundown. Begin looking for Venus about 45 minutes after nightfall. As the sky darkens further, Mars and Regulus, to the Evening Star’s upper left, become visible. Regulus, Leo’s brightest star, is to the upper left of Venus and 1.2° to the left of Mars.
Venus is in its interval of greatest brightness. Its brilliance is striking and noticeably brighter than it was six weeks ago.
This grouping is a rare event. Mars passes Regulus nearly every two years. Venus-Mars conjunctions range from a few months to nearly two years. The next gathering occurs October 2, 2028 in the eastern sky before sunrise, spanning 12.8°. The next close gathering of the trio is July 9, 2053. Other widely-spaced gatherings occur in the years leading up to the next close gathering.
Mercury and the moon, join this year’s gathering on the 19th and 20th.
Mercury is rapidly entering the evening sky. At sunset, the bright planet is over 6° above the west-northwest horizon, but its appearance is washed over by the sun’s glare. It sets nearly 45 minutes after the sun.
Tomorrow the Red Planet passes Regulus in a close conjunction. In a week, Venus does not pass Regulus, but closes to within 3.5°, a near or quasi-conjunction.
- 2023, October 21: Three Bright Planets, First Quarter MoonOctober 21, 2023: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to locate during nighttime hours. The First Quarter moon phase occurs this evening.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.