by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:07 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:03 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:
Two bright planets, Venus and Jupiter, are visible before daybreak. Brilliant Venus, stepping eastward in front of Leo, is about 30° up in the east-southeast. It is 9.4° to the lower left of Regulus, Leo’s brightest star. Use a binocular to spot it 2.9° to the lower left of Rho Leonis (ρ Leo on the chart). The planet’s next conjunction is with Chertan in four mornings. Venus passes nearly 10° from the star.
Bright Jupiter is in the west, nearly the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Venus. It is the second brightest starlike body in the sky this morning. Sometimes it is dimmer than Mars when the Red Planet is near Earth.
Jupiter is retrograding in front of Aries, 12.2° to the left of Hamal, the constellation’s brightest star, and 11.3° to the upper right of Menkar, the Sea Monster’s nostril.
During retrograde, a planet appears to move westward against the distant stars. As Earth overtakes and passes between the planet and the sun, the line of sight that normally moves eastward against the stars, stops and begins to move westward. The effect is an optical illusion caused by our faster-moving planet.
Planet Uranus is between Jupiter and the Pleiades star cluster. The planet is fairly easy to locate, about midway from Jupiter to the stellar bundle through a binocular. Jupiter and the cluster are too far away for each to fit into the same field of view with Uranus.
Point the binocular about midway between them and find the starfield that contains 63, 65, Delta (δ), Zeta (ζ), and Tau (τ) in Aries. See the accompanying chart.
Uranus is distinctly dimmer than the reference stars and aquamarine in color. The planet’s globe is revealed through a telescope.
Mercury nears its superior conjunction. It is bathed in bright sunlight, rising only six minutes before the sun.
Like Mercury, Mars is immersed in bright evening twilight. This evening it sets only twenty-four minutes after sundown.
The crescent moon, 25% illuminated, is about 15° up in the west-southwest after sunset. As the sky darkens, look for Sagittarius, resembling a tea pot. This evening the moon looks like it is poured from the pot’s spout.
The lunar orb is in the general direction of the Milky Way’s center, over 25,000 light years away. A year ago, a radio map of the region was publicized, showing a long-theorized black hole there. The galactic core is not visible to us because gas, dust, and stars block its view. In Sagittarius’ direction, the plane of the galaxy widens suggesting that the center is in that direction.
Use a binocular to find the Cat’s Eyes, Shaula and Lesath, on the Scorpion’s tail. They are fading into evening twilight. They return to the morning sky next year.
An hour after sundown, look for Saturn nearly 30° up in the southeast. It is not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, but it outshines most of the stars this evening. It retrogrades in front of Aquarius, 6.9° to the left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail.
This weekend, seek out an astronomy club telescope night or one held by a science museum. Be sure to see Saturn and its rings.
During the night, the Ringed Wonder is farther west, setting in the west-southwest over four hours before sunrise and when Venus rises.
Two hours after sunset, Jupiter is nearly 15° up in the east, to the lower left of Hamal and upper right of the Pleiades. Look for Capella, low in the north-northeast.
The star is the fourth brightest star from the mid-northern latitudes, noticeably brighter than Saturn, but dimmer than Jupiter this evening. It shines from over 40 light years away with an intensity of nearly 150 suns.
As midnight approaches, Jupiter is about halfway up in the east-southeast. By tomorrow morning it is in the western sky as Venus gleams near Leo.
- 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.