by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:51 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:24 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times. Times are calculated by the US Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
The bright star Vega is appearing before sunrise and during evening hours. This morning the second brightest star in the northern half of the sky is low in the northeast, making its first morning appearance or its heliacal rising.
Vega is a bright blue-white star, shining at a distance of twenty-five light years and a visual intensity of nearly fifty suns.
With Vega’s entry into the morning sky, nearly all the ten brightest stars visible from the mid-northern latitudes are visible before sunrise. The list is Sirius, Arcturus, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Spica. Altair, number eight, is below the eastern horizon at this hour.
After sunset, Vega, Altair, and Deneb – known as the Summer Triangle – are high in the west-southwestern sky. The triangle is visible in the eastern sky after sunset about the time of the summer solstice. From Earth’s revolution around the sun, it starts the night in tonight’s location.
Vega sets around midnight, but with the sun’s more southerly location it reappears in the northeast before sunrise.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Summary for Venus as a Morning Star, 2023-24
Here is today’s planet forecast:
At three hours before daybreak, Venus and Jupiter are nearly the same altitudes, height above the horizon. They are about 10° up, Venus in the east-southeast and Jupiter in the west. The gap between them is over 160°.
An hour before sunrise, the Morning Star is nearly 30° up in the southeast, 7.8° above Spica. Venus passes the star in a wide conjunction in five mornings.
This morning Arcturus is nearly 35° up in the east and nearly 30° to the upper left of Venus.
The Scorpion is beginning to crawl across the horizon. Its claws, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, are above the east-southeast horizon. Like Vega, they are making their first morning appearance. Each morning these stars are higher in the sky.
After its conjunction with Spica, Venus continues to move eastward, passing between the claws December 18th.
Mars rises a few minutes before the sun. It is not easily visible again until early next year.
Mercury’s greatest elongation occurs December 4th. The planet appears farthest from the sun, but it is still in bright twilight. At sunset this evening, the planet is less than 10° above the southwest horizon. The planet sets less than an hour later. At its best, Mercury is challenging to see for northern hemisphere sky watchers.
The bright gibbous moon, 93% illuminated, is about 30° up in the east after sundown. Jupiter is the “bright star” to the lower left of the lunar orb. The separation is 5.7°. During the evening as Earth rotates, the moon moves eastward to close in on the planet.
Tomorrow morning, the gibbous moon passes Jupiter. Early risers see Jupiter 2.2° to the left of the gibbous moon in the western sky about two hours before daybreak. The duo is close to the western horizon in middle America. For sky watchers in the Central Time zone look earlier when the pair is higher in the sky. Western locales see the moon pass Jupiter at 3 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, although the moon is below the horizon in the eastern Americas.
After sundown, Saturn is in the southern sky, over 35° above the horizon. The star Fomalhaut, meaning “the mouth of the southern fish,” is about 20° to the lower left of the planet. Saturn sets in the west-southwest before midnight.
- 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.