by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:09 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:02 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
The sky is very dynamic, especially with fast moving planets and those that rotate quickly. Jupiter is a spectacular sight through a telescope. A view through the nighttime shows cloud features that appear on the east side of the planet and disappear several hours later on the west side from its rapid rotation. The four largest satellites seem to shuttle from one side of Jupiter to the other. On occasion, they pass in front of the planet and project their shadows on the clouds.
Io revolves around Jupiter nearly every two days, while Callisto’s period is nearly 17 days.
For sky watchers with telescopes, shadows of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede are visible simultaneously on Jupiter’s cloud tops. Io’s shadow is projected on the clouds beginning at 12:40 a.m. CDT. Ganymede’s shadow appears with Io’s at 12:57 a.m. As Jupiter rotates and the moons revolve around the planet, the shadow’s move together across the clouds until Ganymede’s shadow leaves at 2:43 a.m.
Io is visible in front of Jupiter from 1:02 a.m. through 3:10 a.m. Ganymede’s time in front of the planet occurs for about an hour beginning at 2:50 a.m. CDT.
Similarly, Mercury’s quick year is only eighty-eight earth-days long. Revolving around the sun at a distance less than 40% Earth’s solar range, the planet overtakes and passes our world every 116 days. It seems to bounce from the eastern morning sky to the western evening sky and back to the morning again, passing near the sun in the sky on the way.
Today, it passes superior conjunction. Earth, sun, and Mercury are aligned with the sun between the two planets. The planet then enters the evening sky, reaching its farthest separation from the sun, known as greatest elongation, on December 4th.
The planet makes a favorable appearance for southern hemisphere sky watchers, but from the northern hemisphere, the visibility suffers from a poorly inclined ecliptic – or plane of the solar system. At greatest elongation, the planet is less than 5° above the southwest horizon at the middle of evening twilight from Chicago’s latitude.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Summary for Venus as a Morning Star, 2023-24
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Brilliant Venus is in the east-southeast before sunrise. Three days before its greatest separation from the sun, the planet is about 30° above the horizon. While not as quick as Mercury, its changing place compared to the distance stars is easily observed.
The planet is over 10° to the lower left of Regulus, the Lion’s brightest star, and 3.8° to the lower left of Rho Leonis (ρ Leo on the chart). Use a binocular to see Venus and dimmer Rho.
In three mornings, Venus passes Chertan in a wide conjunction that has a gap of nearly 10°.
Through a telescope, Venus displays a phase 49% illuminated. When the planet reaches greatest elongation, the phase is 50% illuminated and then grows into a morning gibbous phase.
After its exhibition of moons and shadows earlier this morning, bright Jupiter is in the western sky, about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Venus. The planet is retrograding in front of Aries, 12.2° to the left of the constellation’s brightest star, Hamal.
The planet is retrograding, appearing to move westward against the starfield. In about a week it moves between Hamal and Menkar, Cetus’ nostril, 11.4° to the planet’s lower left.
Mars is slowly moving toward its solar conjunction on November 18th. This evening it sets twenty-three minutes after the sun.
At forty-five minutes after sundown, the crescent moon, 37% illuminated, is less than 20° above the west-southwest horizon. It is in front of Sagittarius, commonly known as the Teapot. In this moonlight, use a binocular to see the pot’s outline.
Fifteen minutes later, Saturn is nearly 30° above the southeast horizon. It continues to retrograde in front of Aquarius, 6.9° to the left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail, and nearly 20° above Fomalhaut, the Southern Fish’s mouth.
During the night, Saturn appears farther westward, setting in the west-southwest before Venus rises.
Bright Jupiter is less than 5° above the east-northeast horizon when Saturn is in the southeast. By midnight, it is over halfway up in the southeast. Tomorrow morning, it is in the western sky.
- 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.