by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:52 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:23 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:
Early this 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, over three hours before daybreak. 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.
When Jupiter and the moon are near the western horizon, brilliant Venus is low in the east-southeast over 160° from Jupiter.
An hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is less than 30° above the southeast horizon. It is approaching Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, 6.4° below the planet. The Morning Star passes Spica in a wide conjunction in four mornings.
Through a telescope, the planet shows a morning gibbous phase that is 66% illuminated.
Mars, several days past its solar conjunction, rises only a few minutes before the sun. It is not visible for the balance of the year.
Mercury, heading for its greatest elongation when it is seen farthest from the sun, is nearly 10° above the southwest horizon at sunset. It is not yet visible in a darker sky from the mid-northern latitudes. Forty-five minutes after sundown, the planet is only 2° above the horizon. At this time interval on the best evenings, it is about 5° up in the southwest. Southern hemisphere sky watchers are seeing a good view of the planet in the southwestern sky.
The bright gibbous moon, 98% illuminated, is nearly 25° up in the east as night falls, 8.7° to the lower left of bright Jupiter. Compared to last night or this morning, the lunar orb moved farther eastward.
In this bright moonlight, the background stars are difficult to see. Jupiter is 11.3° to the lower right of Hamal, the brightest star in Aries. A binocular might be needed to see it.
At this hour Saturn, considerably dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than most stars in the sky this evening, is less than halfway up in the south. It is slowly moving eastward against Aquarius, but the moonlight washes out the pattern’s dim stars. The star Fomalhaut, part of the Southern Fish, is about 20° to the lower left of the Ringed Wonder.
Return to the sky again with a binocular at least two hours after sundown. The planet Uranus is in the same binocular field with the gibbous moon. With the optical assist, the moon is bright enough to create a temporary afterimage in your vision, like that from a camera flash. Place the moon toward the upper right edge of the field – toward the two o’clock position. Once the field is found with Delta (δ Ari on the chart), Epsilon (ε Ari), and 47 (47 Ari) in Aries, the binocular can be moved slightly to the lower left to remove the moon from the view. Uranus, dimmer than the stars in the view, is to the lower right of Delta. This view is challenging with the bright moon, but easier when the moon is removed.
During the night Saturn appears farther westward, setting in the west-southwest before midnight. Jupiter is southward less than six hours after sundown, with the moon following about 40 minutes behind Jupiter. The Jovian Giant is in the western sky when Venus rises nearly four hours before sunrise. Tomorrow morning the lunar orb is at the horizon an hour before the day breaks.
- 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.