2023, September 14: Bright Planets, Seasonal Change

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2020, July 26: In Taurus, brilliant Venus is morning eastward toward Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau). This morning Venus is 5.8° to the upper right of the star.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:30 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:02 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.

Photo Caption – Annular Eclipse 2012

A month from today, October 14, the moon’s shadow races across the western hemisphere, first crossing the Oregon shoreline.  The eastward-bound shadow moves across Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas before crossing the Gulf of Mexico to meet the Yucatan Peninsula. The track parallels the coast of Central America, crossing into South America at Columbia, then making a hard eastward turn across Brazil to meet the Atlantic Ocean.  Sky watchers in the shadow’s path see an annular eclipse, meaning ring, today commonly known as a “ring of fire eclipse.”

Such eclipses occur when the moon is near its most distant point from Earth, called apogee, so that the lunar disk is not large enough to fully-cover the sun. At the eclipse’s peak, a ring or annulus of light surrounds the moon. The eclipse occurs about three and one-half days after the moon is at this far point.

Photo Caption – 2012, May 20: Partial solar eclipse.

Sky watchers outside the main shadow experience a partial eclipse, depending on their distance from the shadow.  For sky watchers in Chicago, the moon covers 54% of the sun, while 85% is covered from Phoenix.

2017: Great American Solar Eclipse – The corona is visible.

This eclipse is a precursor to the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse that is visible across a large swath of North America.  Historical weather is not promising for a clear day, although April 8, 2023, was clear across a large part of the eclipse path at eclipse time. 

Next year’s eclipse occurs less than one day after the moon is at perigee, the closest point to Earth. The moon is large enough to fully cover the solar disk to reveal the sun’s corona.

Summaries of Current Sky Events
Summary for Venus as a Morning Star, 2023-24

Here is today’s planet forecast:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, September 14: Jupiter is in the southwest an hour before sunrise nearly between Hamal and Menkar.

One hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter is high in the southwestern sky.  The planet is retrograding – appearing to move westward compared to the starry background, 13.5° to the lower left of Hamal, Aries brightest star, and 11.2° to the upper right of Menkar, the Sea Monster’s nostril.  The Pleiades star cluster, on Taurus’ back, is over 16° to the upper left of the planet.

During the next several mornings, watch Jupiter move westward and cross an imaginary line from Hamal to Menkar, showing its westward retrograde direction.

Chart Caption – 2023, September 14: Venus is in the eastern sky with Sirius, Procyon, and Regulus before daybreak.

Farther eastward, brilliant Venus is over 20° above the eastern horizon.  The planet continues to rise three minutes earlier each morning compared to sunrise while it steps eastward against the starry background.  This morning, the Morning Star is 17.0° to the upper right of Regulus – meaning “the prince ” – Leo’s brightest star.

Venus and Sirius, over 40° to the right of the planet in the southeast, are about the same altitude – height above the horizon.  While there is no future Venus-Sirius conjunction, the brightest planet and brightest star are in the eastern sky at the same altitude during this month.  Seeing these two bright celestial bodies in the same general part of the sky is a striking event and worthy of an early morning look.

Procyon – known as the Little Dog Star – is above an imaginary line from Venus to Sirius.  Its name means “before the dog” because it rises about 30 minutes before Sirius, the Dog Star, from the mid-northern latitudes. Procyon is the sixth brightest star visible from Chicago and similar latitudes, shining from a distance about fifty per cent farther away than Sirius.

Photo Caption – Mercury as Never Seen Before. (NASA photo)

Mercury rises sixty-four minutes before the sun.  While still dim, the speedy planet is over 5° above the eastern horizon at thirty minutes before sunup.  It is 8.2° to the lower left of Regulus.  In two mornings, the planet moves to within 8.0° of Regulus and it is visible in a slightly darker sky at forty-five minutes before daybreak.  It is heading toward its best morning appearance of the year.

Evening Sky

These side-by-side images of Mars, taken roughly two years apart, show very different views of the same hemisphere of Mars. Both were captured when Mars was near opposition, which occurs about every two years, when Earth’s orbit catches up to Mars’ orbit. At that time, the Sun, Earth, and Mars fall in a straight line, with Mars and the Sun on “opposing” sides of Earth. (NASA Photo)

Mars is slowly sliding into bright sunlight.  The Red Planet is dimmer than expected.  The last hurrah of its appearance is a difficult-to-see close grouping with the moon during bright twilight in two evenings.

Chart Caption – 2023, September 14: Saturn is in the southeast during the early evening.

Saturn rises in the southeast, less than an hour before nightfall.  By two hours after sunset, the Ringed Wonder is over 25° above the southeast horizon.  It is not as distinctly bright as Venus or Jupiter, but it outshines most stars this evening.

Saturn is retrograding in front of Aquarius, 9.3° to the upper right of Skat, meaning “the leg,” and 9.5° to the right of Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart).  A binocular might be needed to see the two stars.  Saturn does not appear in the same field of view with them.  Find Saturn and then move the binocular to the appropriate directions to see the stars.

The star Fomalhaut, meaning “the mouth of the southern fish,” is about 20° below Saturn and over 6° above the horizon

Chart Caption – Arcturus, part of Boötes, is to the left of the Big Dipper in the western sky during the early evening hours of mid-September.

At this hour, topaz Arcturus, the second brightest star visible from mid-northern latitudes, is low in the western sky.  The star and its constellation, Boötes that resembles a kite, are celestial symbols that seasonal change is imminent when they appear at this location during the evenings.  The constellation is said to be chasing after the Big Bear, which is easily identified in the Big Dipper, the animal’s brightest stars.  The curved handle seems to point in Arcturus direction. 

Arcturus is over one and one-half times brighter than Saturn.

Saturn is south before midnight and low in the west-southwest when Venus rises in the morning.

Jupiter rises over two hours after sunset.  It crosses the south cardinal direction over two hours before sunup and it is in the southwest during morning twilight tomorrow.

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