by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:59 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:14 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
In two days, an annular or ring eclipse is visible from a path across the western and southwestern U.S. The moon is near apogee, the farthest point in its orbit, and it does not completely cover the sun. At the maximum eclipse a ring of sunlight surrounds the moon.
From across the western hemisphere a partial eclipse is visible. From New York City, the sun is 23% covered at 1:22 p.m. EDT.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Summary for Venus as a Morning Star, 2023-24
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Two morning planets, Venus and Jupiter bracket the Milky Way’s Orion region that is in the southern sky before sunrise.
At one hour before sunup, brilliant Venus is 30° up in the east-southeast, 3.4° below Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. The Morning Star continues to step eastward against the distant starfield.
Regulus is at the bottom of a shape resembling a backwards question mark, known as the “Sickle of Leo.” The pattern is a westward-facing Lion that we see in silhouette. The animal’s haunches and tail are made by a triangle to the lower left of Regulus. Denebola, the Lion’s tail, dots the triangle’s eastern vertex.
This morning, the crescent moon, 5% illuminated, is over 10° above the eastern horizon and 10.0° to the lower right of the tail star.
Bright Jupiter is less than halfway up in the west-southwest, 12.5° to the left of Hamal, Aries’ brightest star, and 11.2° to the upper left of Menkar, part of Cetus. The planet retrogrades, appears to move westward against the starfield, and approaches an imaginary line from Hamal to Menkar.
The Pleiades star cluster, part of Taurus, is nearly 18° above the planet. The stellar bundle is on the western extreme of the bright Orion congregation. The Bull’s head is made by bright Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster.
Orion, the flagship constellation of the region, is about halfway up in the west-southwest with bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel. This area of the sky has six of the ten brightest stars visible from the mid-northern latitudes. Sirius, night’s brightest star, is over 30° up in the southern sky, but slightly east of the south cardinal direction.
Procyon, part of Canis Minor, is over halfway up in the sky to the upper left of Sirius. Notice that Sirius, Betelgeuse and Procyon make nearly an equilateral triangle, known as the Winter Triangle.
Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins are higher in the sky, to the east of Auriga’s pentagon shape.
Sirius made its first morning appearance during August, while the Twins and Auriga appeared earlier in the summer season. Each morning, they are slightly farther westward.
If you are looking for Jupiter during the early evening, the Pleiades are in the sky at that time. By early winter, Orion’s region is in the eastern sky after sundown. During February, the stellar assembly is in the south during the early evening. Near mid-spring, Orion leaves the sky during evening twilight, returning to the eastern sky during early summer mornings.
Use a binocular to explore the bright stars’ colors from rosy to sapphire, the bright star clusters, and the Orion nebula, below the Hunter’s belt. To see the gaseous cloud, hold the binocular so that the belt stars are at the top of the field of view. The nebula is to the bottom left, appearing as a greenish hazy patch. Even with the optical assist, the colors in the beautiful photos do not appear.
This morning Mercury, coming off its best morning appearance of the year, hides in bright predawn twilight. It rises only thirty minutes before the sun.
Mars is not visible. It sets about thirty minutes after the sun.
Saturn, not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, is nearly 30° above the southeast horizon at one hour after sunset. It retrogrades in front of Aquarius, 7.1° to the left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail.
Look for Fomalhaut, the Mouth of the Southern Fish, about 20° below Saturn.
Saturn is not much to see through a binocular, perhaps a tiny extension of the rings might be visible. Through a telescope at around 80x magnification, the rings are easily visible. With the rings, the planet appears to be about the diameter of a number two pencil eraser held at arm’s length.
If you have not had an opportunity to look at the Ringed Wonder through a telescope, find a telescope event at a local science museum or astronomy club. Better yet, convince the neighborhood sky watcher to show you Saturn through their telescope.
Jupiter rises sixty-four minutes after sundown. About an hour later, the Jovian Giant is over 10° above the eastern horizon. As midnight approaches, it is over halfway up in the east-southeast. At this hour, Orion is above the eastern horizon. Tomorrow morning the bright morning planets again bookend the bright stars in the Orion region.
- 2023, December 19: A Scorpion Fumble, Moon MidwayDecember 19, 2023: Before sunrise, Venus appears below the Scorpion’s claws. After sundown, the moon is nearly midway from Saturn to Jupiter.
- 2023, December 18: Pinched VenusDecember 18, 2023: Look for Venus between the Scorpion’s claws in the southeast before sunrise. The thick crescent moon is in the evening sky with Jupiter and Saturn.
- 2023, December 17: Celestial PairsDecember 17, 2023: Before sunrise, Venus passes Zubenelgenubi, a planet-star conjunction. After sundown, Saturn and crescent moon are paired, a planet-moon conjunction.
- 2023, December 16: Venus Clawed, Evening Crescent Nears SaturnDecember 16, 2023: Before daybreak, Venus is above the Scorpion’s southern claw. After nightfall, the crescent moon nears Saturn.
- 2023, December 15: Brilliant Morning Star, Evening Lunar CrescentDecember 15, 2023: Before sunrise, brilliant Venus approaches Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion’s southern claw. The crescent moon returns to the western evening sky.