2023, November 21: Try to Spot Neptune, Three Bright Planets

Venus, Mercury and Elnath, May 23, 2020
Photo Caption – 2020, May 23: Brilliant Venus appears with Mercury and Elnath in the evening sky.


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:47 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:26 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:

Morning Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, November 21: Venus is in the southeastern sky stepping eastward toward a conjunction with Spica in about a week.

Brilliant Venus continues to outshine all other stars in the eastern sky during morning twilight.  Rising eleven minutes short of four hours before sunrise, the bright Morning Star is in the southeastern sky.  At three hours before daybreak, it is nearly 10° above the east-southeast horizon, while bright Jupiter is nearly 15° up in the west.

The Venus-Jupiter gap continues to widen with Venus quick eastward step and Jupiter’s slow retrograde.  The gap this morning is approaching 160°.  After their December 10th opposition, Jupiter sets before Venus rises.

By an hour before daybreak, Venus is nearly 30° up in the southeast.  It is noticeably moving eastward in front of Virgo, 4.2° to the lower left of Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis, and 10.3° to the upper right of Spica, the constellation’s brightest star. 

Beginning tomorrow, Venus is within 10° of Spica, leading up to their wide conjunction on the 29th.  Afterward, Venus is within 10° until December 7th as it continues to move eastward.

After its solar conjunction, Mars is west of the sun, rising only a few minutes before daybreak.

Evening Sky

Mercury is moving toward its greatest elongation December 4th.  The planet’s visibility suffers from a poorly inclined ecliptic with the western horizon, for northern hemisphere sky watchers, but in the southern hemisphere it is easier to see.  At sunset, the bright planet is nearly 7° above the southwest horizon, and it sets fifty minutes after sunset.

Chart Caption – 2023, November 21: Saturn and the moon are in the southern sky after sundown.

The gibbous moon, 67% illuminated, is nearly 35° up in the southeast after sundown.  The moon’s light spreads across the sky and washes out many dimmer stars, with the Full moon approaching on the 27th.

Saturn, nearly 35° up in the south, is almost 20° to the right of the lunar orb.  The Ringed Wonder is slowly moving eastward in front of Aquarius, its dimmer stars victims to the bright moonlight, 6.9° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi.  Use a binocular to see the planet and the star together, although they fit tightly into the field of view.

Chart Caption – 2023, November 21: Neptune is seen in a challenging view with the moon through a binocular.

For sky watchers wanting a challenge.  Look for Neptune with the moon in the same binocular field.  Wait until at least two hours after nightfall when the sky reaches its natural level of darkness.  Target the moon with the binocular and place the lunar orb to the lower right in the field of view.  Neptune is toward the upper left at about the ten o’clock position.  There are no other reasonably bright stars in this field and Neptune is difficult to see through the moon’s glare.  The planet appears aquamarine.  Substantial magnification is needed in a telescope to see the planet’s globe.

Chart Caption – 2023, November 21: Jupiter is in the east an hour after nightfall.

At one hour after sunset, bright Jupiter is over 20° up in the east, nearly 50° to the lower left of the moon.  The Jovian Giant is retrograding, appearing to move west compared to the starfield, 11.4° to the lower right of Hamal and 13.0° above Menkar.  While the two stars do not fit into the same binocular field with the planet, use the optical assist to find them.

During the night, Saturn, Moon, and Jupiter appear farther westward compared to the horizon.  Saturn sets in the west-southwest around midnight, followed by the moon, nearly two hours later.  Jupiter is southward about six hours after sunset and in the western sky when Venus rises tomorrow morning.  Jupiter sets nearly two hours before sunrise.


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