PODCAST FOR THIS ARTICLE
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:10 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:00 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 planets, Venus and Jupiter, are easy to locate during morning twilight. Brilliant Venus is nearly 30° above the east-southeast horizon at one hour before sunrise. As twilight brightens toward daybreak, the planet is still visible.
Venus is in front of Leo’s distant stars. The Morning Star steps eastward each morning compared to the stellar background. Use a binocular to see the dimmer star Rho Leonis (ρ Leo on the chart), 4.7° to the planet’s upper right.
Venus is approaching its greatest separation from the sun, as viewed from our planet, known as the greatest elongation. Because the planet’s orbit is inside Earth’s, Venus does not stray far from the sun. After inferior conjunction, between Earth and the central star, Venus speeds away and ahead of our planet. It brightens and then reaches a point when it rises early and appears high in the sky. Then it begins to rise later after it sort of rounds the curvature of its solar orbit. Like a dog on a chain attached to a yard spike, the planet reaches the end of its slack and it heads toward the farthest part of its orbit. The greatest elongation occurs in two mornings and coincidentally passes Chertan, Leo’s “two small ribs,” in a wide conjunction.
This morning Venus rises five minutes short of four hours and nearly an hour after Saturn sets.
Not as bright as Venus, Jupiter is in the western sky during morning twilight. The Jovian Giant is retrograding in front of Aries, 12.1° to the left of Hamal, the constellation’s brightest star.
In a week, Jupiter passes between Hamal and Menkar, part of Cetus.
For sky watchers in the western hemisphere with telescopes, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is visible at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere twice today. The first is at 3:39 a.m. CDT and the second, 11:30 p.m. CDT, two Jupiter days after the first appearance.
After superior conjunction yesterday, Mercury is moving toward an appearance in the western sky after sundown. This evening the planet sets only five minutes after the sun sets. Mars follows eighteen minutes later.
An hour after sundown, the nearly half-full moon is in the southern sky. The half-full (First Quarter) phase occurs at 10:29 p.m. CDT.
Saturn is farther eastward, nearly 35° to the moon’s upper left and almost 30° above the southeast horizon. The Ringed Wonder is retrograding in front of Aquarius, 6.8° to the left of Deneb Algedi. Both fit into the same binocular field of view.
At this hour, Jupiter is low in the east-northeast. Wait another hour to see it about 15° up in the east. As the midnight hour approaches the planet is about halfway up in the southeast and in the west again tomorrow before sunrise.
- 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.