by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:21 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:16 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Mercury passes between Earth and Sun today. This is known as inferior conjunction. The planet races around the sun every eighty-eight days and overtakes and laps our planet every one hundred, sixteen days.
This event is not easily visible by conventional means because Mercury is with the sun.
After today’s inferior conjunction, the planet zips into the morning sky for its best predawn display of the year. The planet reaches its largest separation from the sun, known as greatest elongation, on the 22nd. The closest separation it has to Venus is 23.1° on the 18th. This puts four bright planets that are visible after midnight and before sunrise.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Of those four planets, Saturn sets early during morning twilight that begins over ninety minutes before daybreak.
At forty-five minutes before sunrise, the bright moon, 55% illuminated, is high in the south-southeast, 8.9° above Aldebaran, Taurus’ brightest star, and over 20° from bright Jupiter. The moon is at the morning half phase, called Last Quarter, at 5:21 p.m. CDT, when the lunar orb is below the horizon in the Americas.
Jupiter is retrograding in front of Aries, nearly 16° to the lower right of the Pleiades star cluster. Use a binocular to see the star cluster in this moonlight.
Brilliant Venus, rising over two hours before the sun, is over 15° up in the east-southeast. It outshines everything this morning except the moon. The planet gains about six minutes of rising time each morning compared to sunrise.
Look for Sirius, over 40° to the right of Venus and slightly higher. The Dog Star is too far from the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system, for the planets to pass closely. So, we see the night’s brightest star and the brightest planet in the eastern sky. On about the 10th, Venus and Sirius are at about the same altitude during morning twilight. This lasts for the remaining days of the month.
Notice Procyon, above an imaginary line from Venus to Sirius. Procyon, meaning “before the dog,” is known as the Little Dog Star. It rises about 30 minutes before Sirius at the mid-northern latitudes.
In about a week, Mercury appears above the eastern horizon. Scout out a location with a clear eastern horizon to spot the planet during its best morning appearance of the year.
With Mercury moving into the morning sky, Mars is fainter than expected, setting less than an hour after nightfall.
Saturn rises before sunset. At two hours after sundown, the planet is about 20° above the southeast horizon. It is retrograding in front of Aquarius, 8.9° to the upper right of Skat, the Aquarian’s leg, and 9.0° to the right of Lambda Aquarii. Use a binocular to see the stars. They do not fit into the same binocular field with Saturn. Find the planet and then move the binocular in the direction of each star.
Jupiter rises in the eastern sky less than two hours, 30 minutes after the sun. As the calendar day ends, the Jovian Giant is nearly 20° up in the east. The thick crescent moon is rising in the east-northeast. Capella is the bright star to the moon’s upper left.
- 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.