by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:43 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:28 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Mars is at solar conjunction today at 11:41 p.m. CST. The Red Planet, Sun, and Earth are in a line with the central star in the middle. The planet is not visible from Earth.
Near the times of Martian solar conjunctions, NASA suspends operational commands to robot spacecraft at the planet. The sun’s electromagnetic effects can interfere with computerized instructions. Sometimes scientific data is returned to Earth and other times it is recorded. The command hiatus began November 11th and continues through the 25th.
The planet slowly emerges from bright sunlight into the eastern morning sky early next year. Its first conjunction occurs with Mercury during late January.
Happy Martian Solar Conjunction!
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Summary for Venus as a Morning Star, 2023-24
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Brilliant Venus is “that star” in the southeast before sunrise. Rising nearly four hours before the sun, the Morning Star is nearly 30° above the horizon at one hour before sunrise. The planet steps eastward each morning in front of Virgo’s stars.
This morning, the planet passes 1.2° to the lower right of Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis. Use a binocular to see the planet with the star. From locales without persistent outdoor light, Porrima is visible without an optical assist.
Venus is heading toward a wide conjunction with Spica on the 29th. This morning Virgo’s brightest star is over 14° to the lower left of the planet. Beginning a week before the conjunction, Venus closes to within 10° of Spica.
Venus is the brightest starlike body in the sky this morning, followed by Sirius, Arcturus, Capella, Rigel, and Procyon. Five of the six brightest stars that are visible from the mid-northern latitudes are in the sky this morning.
Jupiter is not visible at this hour. At two hours before daybreak, the Jovian Giant is less than 10° up in the west-northwest, over 150° from Venus.
Mercury is not visible. The solar system’s inner-most planet is moving toward its evening greatest elongation December 4th. This evening the planet is over 5° up in the southwest at sunset, setting nearly 45 minutes later. This appearance is very unfavorable for northern hemisphere sky watchers. On the best evenings, it is only 5° above the horizon at the middle of twilight.
An hour after sunset this evening, the crescent moon, 23% illuminated, is nearly 20° above the south-southwest horizon and to the upper left of Sagittarius. Use a binocular to spot the teapot shape. The stars that form the spout are likely a challenge to see as the haze near the horizon blurs and reddens celestial objects.
The moon is displaying earthshine again this evening. This effect is from sunlight that reflects from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land to softly light the lunar night. The light tends to lightly complete the moon’s globe shape. This is visible to unassisted vision, but a binocular helps the view.
While the moon is in the field of view, shift the binocular slightly to the left to notice a tiny kite-shape pattern made by Omega (ω Sgr on the chart), 59, 60, and 62 in Sagittarius. In Chinese mythology this pattern is known as Gǒuguó, meaning the Kingdom of the Dogs or the Dogs Territory.
Omega Sagittarii is named Terebellum, and the four-star pattern have the same name on some older star charts. Once named Tarabellum, or drill, the four stars once stood alone as a separate constellation, but today they are part of Sagittarius.
Farther eastward, at this hour, Saturn is over 30° above the south-southeast horizon. Not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, the Ringed Wonder Ranks as the fourth brightest starlike body in the sky tonight, after Jupiter, Vega, and Altair. It is noticeably brighter, than Fomalhaut, the next brightest star in the sky at this hour.
Saturn is slowly moving eastward in front of Aquarius, generally toward Skat, the leg, and Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart). It is 6.9° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail. Both fit snugly into the same binocular field of view.
Bright Jupiter is nearly 20° above the east horizon. It is retrograding in front of Aries, 11.4° to the lower right of Hamal, the constellation’s brightest star, and 12.7° above Menkar, part of Cetus. It is west of an imaginary line between the two stars. Use a binocular to see them. The illusion of retrograde continues through the remainder of the year.
For sky watchers with telescopes, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a long-lived atmospheric disturbance is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere at 7:43 p.m. CST.
During the night, the moon sets nearly four hours after nightfall, while Saturn follows the moon to the horizon about four hours later. Jupiter is south before midnight and in the western sky when Venus rises tomorrow morning.
- 2023, December 26: Cold Moon, Venus, Jupiter, SaturnDecember 26, 2023: The Cold Moon is visible during the nighttime hours. Venus shines before sunrise while Jupiter and Saturn are visible after sundown.
- 2023, December 25: Telescope First Light, Bright PlanetsDecember 25, 2023: For sky watchers with new telescopes, here’s what to look at before dawn or after sunset.
- 2023, December 24: Morning Moon, Pleiades, Antares Heliacal RisingDecember 24, 2023: The moon appears near the Pleiades star cluster during the earlier morning hours. Antares is at its first morning appearance, known as the heliacal rising.
- 2023, December 23: Check out Planet Uranus, Pleiades near MoonDecember 23, 2023: Look for the planet Uranus and the Pleiades star cluster through a binocular during nighttime hours.
- 2023, December 22: Mercury at Inferior Conjunction, Bright Jupiter, Gibbous MoonDecember 22, 2023: Mercury is between Earth and Sun, known as inferior conjunction. Jupiter and the gibbous moon are celestial companions during nighttime hours.