by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:57 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:18 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Venus and Saturn are at opposition today. This means they are 180° apart in the sky so that Saturn sets as Venus rises. After today, Saturn sets before Venus rises. They do not appear in the sky at the same time until April 2024, after Saturn’s current appearance ends with its solar conjunction, February 28, 2024.
Saturn is not as bright as Venus or Jupiter. The Ringed Wonder disappeared into the haze near the horizon several days ago. Its visibility near the horizon is greatly affected by the thick layer of air near the horizon that blurs, reddens, and dims celestial objects. The effect is easily noticeable with the rising or setting sun and moon. These brilliant celestial objects appear orange, dimmer, and flattened compared to when they are higher in the sky.
So, while the visual opposition of Venus and Saturn occurred several days ago, the astronomical opposition occurs today.
In comparison, Venus and Jupiter are at opposition on December 10th. These planets are bright enough that they can be followed to the horizon. While their light experiences the optical effects of the atmosphere, they are bright enough to shine through this hazy effect.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Summary for Venus as a Morning Star, 2023-24
Here is today’s planet forecast:
This morning brilliant Venus, the crescent moon, and the star Regulus, the brightest in Leo gather in the eastern sky before sunrise. Step outside about an hour before daybreak, the queen of the morning sky shines brightly about 30° above the horizon. It is brighter than all starlike bodies in the sky and it can be mistaken for lights on an airplane. Venus can be simply described as “that bright star” in the east before sunrise.
Regulus is 2.4° to the upper left of Venus. Yesterday, Venus passed closest to the star. While they appear close in the sky, Regulus is nearly eighty light years away, while Venus is a mere 55 million miles away, in comparison.
The moon, 16% illuminated, is 5.9° to the upper left of Venus. Notice earthshine between the moon’s cusps or horns. This is from sunlight that reflects from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land to softly light up the lunar night.
Venus, crescent moon, and Regulus easily fit into a binocular’s field of view. While visible to the unaided eye, the binocular’s optical property visually brightens earthshine.
These gatherings are rather frequent in upcoming years. During 2024, they fit into a circle 2.6° in diameter and easily into a binocular field in the evening sky. On August 5th, Venus is less than 5° above the horizon at thirty minutes after sunset.
A year later, September 19, 2025, again in the morning sky, the three celestial bodies fit into a circle only 1.3° in diameter, a wonderful sight.
During 2026, on July 16th, they fit into a 7.8° circle, spilling outside a binocular field of view. One hour after sunset, Venus is nearly 12° up in the west.
This morning, bright Jupiter is over 35° up in the west-southwest when the gathering appears in the eastern sky. The Jovian Giant continues to retrograde in front of Aries, 12.6° to the left of Hamal, Aries’ brightest star, and 11.2° to the upper right of Menkar, Cetus’ nostril. The planet is nearly 20° below the Pleiades star cluster, part of Taurus.
The illusion of retrograde appears to make the planet move westward in the starfield. It is moving between Hamal and Menkar. Watch it each clear morning.
Mercury continues its retreat into bright predawn twilight. Exiting its best morning appearance of the year, the speedy planet rises thirty-eight minutes before sunrise. It is lost in the sun’s light.
Mars is not visible, setting about thirty minutes after sundown.
By an hour after sunset, Saturn is over 25° above the southeast horizon. It retrogrades in front of Aquarius’ dim stars, 7.2° to the left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail. Less than four hours after sundown, the Ringed Wonder is south. The planet sets nearly four hours before sunrise and before Venus rises.
During the early evening look for Fomalhaut, the mouth of the Southern Fish, about 20° below Saturn.
Bright Jupiter rises sixty-eight minutes after nightfall. About an hour later it is about 10° above the east-northeast horizon. As the calendar day ends, the planet is about halfway up in the east-southeast and in the west-southwest tomorrow morning.
- 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.