2023, September 24: Night’s Bright Planets, Moon Approaches Saturn

Photo Caption – Venus, Mars, Moon, September 10, 2015


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:40 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:45 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.

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 24: Venus, Mercury, Sirius, Procyon and Spica are in the eastern sky during morning twilight.

Over three hours before daybreak, Saturn is low in the west-southwest as Venus rises.  On October 10th, these planets are 180° apart in the sky.  After this planet-planet opposition, Saturn sets before Venus rises.  The Ringed Wonder does not appear in the morning sky with Venus again until after its solar conjunction next year. Venus passes Saturn in bright morning twilight during March.

Brilliant Venus and Mercury shine from the eastern sky during morning twilight.  The Morning Star is over 25° up at an hour before sunrise.  Clearly the brightest starlike body in the sky this morning, Venus steps eastward toward Regulus, Leo’s brightest star, 11.8° to the lower left.  The planet passes the star on October 9th.

Two days after its largest separation from the sun, Mercury is about 5° above the eastern horizon and 13.4° to the lower left of Regulus.  To see the planet, find a clear horizon looking its direction.  The planet is brighter each morning and by waiting another fifteen to thirty minutes, it appears higher but twilight grows with the approaching sunrise.

This is the best morning appearance of Mercury for the year.  The solar system’s plane is tilted very favorably compared to the eastern horizon in the northern hemisphere.

The speedy planet returns to the morning sky during mid-January 2024, appearing about 11° to the lower left of Venus from January 16th through the 19th.

During morning twilight, look for Sirius, about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Venus.  It is in the south-southeast and around 40° to the right of the planet.  The Dog Star is too far away from the ecliptic – solar system plane – to appear near the Morning Star.  So, we can simply look at the brightest planet and night’s brightest star in the eastern sky, and enjoy the magnificent view.

Procyon, the Little Dog Star, is above an imaginary line from Venus to Sirius.

Chart Caption – 2023, September 24: An hour before sunrise, Jupiter is in the southwest.

During morning twilight, bright Jupiter is high in the southwest.  It retrogrades, appears to move westward against a distant Aries’ starfield, 13.3° to the left of Hamal, the Ram’s brightest star, 10.7° to the upper right of Menkar, the Sea Monster’s nostril, and 16.3° to the lower right of the Pleiades star cluster, part of Taurus.

Watch Jupiter’s westward motion carry it between Hamal and Menkar.

Evening Sky

Photo Caption – NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed Mars on July 18, 2018, during a dust storm and near its closest approach to Earth since 2003. (NASA photo)

Dim Mars is largely a lost cause for viewing.  It is quite dim because it is over 235 million miles from Earth, about as far from our planet as it can get.  The Red Planet sets about forty minutes after the sun.

Chart Caption – 2023, September 24: Saturn and the waxing gibbous moon are in the southern sky during the early evening.

The gibbous moon rises over two hours before sunset.  By an hour after sundown, the lunar orb (74% illuminated) is 20° up in the south-southeast and over 30° to the right of Saturn.  Each evening the moon appears farther eastward, passing the Ringed Wonder in two nights.

The moon reaches its full phase September 29th, known as the Harvest Moon, occurring closest to the equinox.

Saturn rises before sunset and it is in the southeastern sky.  The planet is retrograding in front of Aquarius, but the dimmer starfield is washed out by moonlight.  It is in the south about four hours after sunset and in the west-southwest when brilliant Venus rises tomorrow morning.

Bright Jupiter trails Saturn, rising in the eastern sky about two hours after sundown.  By midnight, the Jovian Giant is less than halfway up in the east-southeast.  Tomorrow morning, it is high in the west-southwest.


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