by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:06 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:05 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:
Step outside about an hour before sunrise. Brilliant Venus gleams in the eastern sky. The planet is nearing its greatest elongation, meaning that it reaches the farthest extent from the sun. Rising nearly four hours before sunrise, it steps eastward in front of Leo’s distant stars, 8.4° to the lower left of Regulus, the Lion’s brightest star.
Two mornings ago, the Morning Star passed Rho Leonis (ρ Leo on the chart). Use a binocular to see the star 2.0° above the planet.
Venus passes Chertan in a wide conjunction in five mornings.
These stars make an outline of a westward-facing lion we see in silhouette. The head is outlined by a half dozen stars, resembling a backwards question mark, known as the Sickle of Leo. The haunches and tail are marked by three stars. Denebola marks the tail.
Bright Jupiter is in the western sky, at about the same altitude – height above the horizon as Venus. The Jovian Giant is the second brightest starlike body in the sky this morning. Venus is four times brighter than Jupiter. The solar system’s largest planet outshines Sirius, the night’s brightest star and in the south at this hour, by nearly the same figure.
Jupiter, approaching opposition next month, retrogrades in front of Aries, 12.3° to the left of Hamal, the Ram’s brightest star, and 11.3° to the upper right of Menkar, in Cetus. Find the Pleiades star cluster, nearly 20° above Jupiter.
At this hour, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is visible through a telescope at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere.
Mercury nears its superior conjunction in two days. It is bathed in bright sunlight, rising only six minutes before the sun.
Mars is also nearing its solar conjunction in a month. This evening it sets twenty-five minutes after the sun. Slower moving than Mercury, it loses only a minute or two of setting time every two to three days.
The crescent moon is in the southwest after sundown. It is 18% illuminated and displaying earthshine between its cusps or horns.
The lunar orb is 4.9° to the upper left of Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. The star is red-orange and one of the largest stars in the sun’s neighborhood. At a distance of 600 light years toward the center of the Milky Way, it shines with an intensity over 9,000 suns. It is the eleventh brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes.
Antares is slowly disappearing into bright evening twilight. It is visible in the southwest after sunset until about Halloween.
The solar system’s crown jewel, Saturn, is in the southeastern sky an hour after sundown. Not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, but outshining most stars tonight, the Ringed Wonder is nearly 30° above the southeast horizon at one hour after sundown.
Saturn’s opposition occurred nearly two months ago, but it continues the illusion of retrograde in front of Aquarius, 6.9° to the left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail. Both fit into the same binocular field of view.
Look for the star Fomalhaut, nearly 20° below Saturn.
During the night, Saturn is in the south about three hours after sunset. It sets in the west-southwest over four hours before daybreak and before Venus rises.
Jupiter rises forty-seven minutes after sunset. Over an hour later, it is nearly 15° above the eastern horizon. Hamal is to the upper left and the Pleiades are to the lower left. Near midnight, the planet is about halfway up in the east-southeast and in the west when Venus gleams brilliantly in the east-southeast tomorrow morning.
- 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.