by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:45 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:27 p.m. CST. 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:
Brilliant Venus shines from the southeastern sky before sunrise. At one hour before daybreak, it is nearly 30° above the horizon. The planet is the brightest starlike body in the sky this morning.
The planet is slowly slipping back into bright morning twilight. This morning it rises nine minutes short of four hours. The planet is moving toward the far side of the sun, but it does not reach superior conjunction until June 4, 2024. By month’s end it loses another eight minutes of rising time compared to sunrise. At year’s end it rises two minutes shy of three hours before sunrise.
Watch Venus step eastward each morning compared to the starry background. This morning it is 2.1° below Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis. For sky watchers in areas of perpetual outdoor lighting, a binocular may be needed to see the star above the planet.
Venus is moving toward Spica, over 12° to the lower left of the planet. Beginning in three mornings, the planet is within 10° of Spica, passing by in a wide conjunction on the 29th.
Jupiter is not visible at this hour. It sets ninety minutes before sunrise. Three hours before daybreak, the Jovian Giant is over 15° up in the west, while Venus is almost 10° up in the east-southeast. The Venus-Jupiter gap is nearly 155° and widening each morning. In less than a month, they are 180° apart, a Venus-Jupiter opposition. Earth is between the two planets and Jupiter sets as Venus rises.
Earlier this morning at 1:30 a.m. CST, the Great Red Spot is visible at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere. At the same time, Jupiter’s moon Io is visible against Jupiter’s clouds on the east-side of the planet at nearly the same latitude as the spot. Because of the orientation of the planet in the sky, the moon appears above the long-lived atmospheric disturbance.
While the planet spins, causing the Red Spot to move westward and Io revolves, the moon’s shadow is projected on the cloud tops, starting about twenty minutes after the Red Spot is at center stage.
As time progresses and the spot begins to disappear around the western edge of Jupiter, Io’s shadow is near the center of the planet. The moon leaves the planet’s globe about 3:30 a.m. and the shadow leaves the cloud tops nearly thirty minutes later. From Chicago, the planet is less than 15° above the horizon at this time.
Mars is less than two days past its solar conjunction. It rises at about the time the sun rises and it is lost in the sun’s glare.
Mercury is not easily visible. It is bright and over 6° above the southwest horizon at sundown. It sets about forty-five minutes later. When its visibility is best at the beginning of December, the planet is about 5° above the horizon at forty-five minutes after night falls.
This evening an hour after sunset, the crescent moon, 45% illuminated, is nearly 30° above the southern horizon and 10.5° to the lower right of Saturn. The moon’s phase is half full, First Quarter, tomorrow morning at 4:50 a.m. CST, over six hours after it sets in middle America.
Saturn is moving eastward in front of Aquarius, 6.9° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, meaning “the kid’s tail.” With this moonlight, use a binocular to see the Ringed Wonder and the star tightly in the same field of view.
Bright Jupiter is farther eastward, at this hour. It is over 20° above the east horizon. The planet is retrograding, appearing to move westward against Aries, 11.3° to the lower right of Hamal and 12.8° above Menkar. Use a binocular to see these stars, although they do not fit into the same binocular field of view with the planet.
With Earth’s rotation during the night, the evening trio appears farther westward. The moon sets before midnight, with Saturn following less than an hour later. Jupiter is south about the time the moon sets and it is in the western sky when Venus rises 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.