by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:56 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:21 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:
An hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus passes 4.2° to the upper left of Spica in a widely-spaced conjunction. Venus is stepping eastward in front of Virgo, passing the constellation’s brightest star this morning. Venus is nearly 90 million miles from Earth, but Spica is over sixteen million times farther away.
Spica shines with a brightness of one thousand, nine hundred suns. It is the tenth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes. This morning nine of the ten are in the sky. In order of brightness and not including Venus, they are: Sirius, Arcturus, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Spica. Altair is the ninth brightest. It appears in the evening sky and makes morning appearances beginning early January 2024, but by then Sirius, Rigel, Betelgeuse, and Aldebaran are no longer in the morning sky.
This morning farther westward, the bright gibbous moon, 95% illuminated, is less than halfway up in the sky in the west. The Bull’s horns, Elnath and Zeta Tauri, are to the lower right of the lunar orb. The bovine’s eye, Aldebaran, is about 25° to the moon’s lower right.
This morning the moon is 6.3° to the right of Tejat Posterior, Castor’s heel. A binocular is needed to see the star in this moonlight. Do not confuse this star with Alhena, meaning “the brand mark,” is to the left of the moon, at nearly twice Tejat Posterior’s lunar separation. Alhena is over twice as bright as the comparison star.
A star cluster, cataloged as Messier 35, is in the same binocular field of view with Tejat Posterior, Castor’s heel, and the lunar orb. Notice the star Propus, the toe, 2.2° to the left of the stellar bundle. Once the cluster is found, move the binocular slightly to the left to remove the moon’s glare. It should be noted that through the binocular that the moon can leave a temporary afterimage in human vision like that from a camera flash, when one “see’s spots.”
The star cluster is similar to the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus. The Gemini cluster is about seven times farther away than the Seven Sisters and appears dimmer and smaller. It serves as a milestone along the ecliptic. The moon passes by each month and the bright planets visit regularly. The views of the cluster with the moon are easier each month through spring as the moon phase is thinner through May 2024. On May 10th at an hour after nightfall, the waxing crescent moon and the star cluster nicely fit into a binocular field, 5.3° apart.
Earlier this morning, Venus rises about fifteen minutes short of four hours before daybreak. Forty-five minutes later, Earth’s Twin planet is low in the east-southeast and Jupiter is near the horizon in the west. Both shine through the haze near the horizon, although they are somewhat dimmer. The are approaching their opposition December 10th, when Jupiter sets and Venus rises. This morning the gap between them is approaching 170°.
The outer planets’ oppositions with Venus in the morning sky, indicate the last date that the two planets are in the sky simultaneously. Venus steps eastward quickly and widens the gap between them. When the opposition occurs in the evening sky, this indicates that the two planets are again visible together until Venus disappears into evening twilight, racing toward inferior conjunction between Earth and Sun.
This morning Mars rises about fifteen minutes before the sun, not yet visible in eastern sky during morning twilight.
Mercury continues a seemingly arduous climb in the western evening sky for northern hemisphere sky watchers. This evening, the planet is nearly 10° up in the southwest at sundown. It is bright, so try to catch a glimpse of it through a binocular when it is over 5° above the horizon at 30 minutes after sunset.
At one hour after sundown, Saturn is in the southern sky, over 35° above the horizon. The planet is slowly plodding eastward in front of Aquarius, 7.3° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail. The planet and the star may still fit into the same field of view, but not for many more nights. The planet is generally heading toward Skat, the Aquarian’s leg, and Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart).
Farther eastward, bright Jupiter is nearly 30° up in the east. It retrogrades in front of Aries, 11.3° to the lower right of Hamal, the Ram’s brightest star, and 13.4° above Menkar, Cetus’ nostril. The planet is noticeably west of an imaginary line between the two stars. Retrograde continues until year’s end.
The moon, 92% illuminated, rises nearly two hours after sundown. Two hours later it is over 20° above the east-northeast horizon. It is in front of Gemini, to the upper right of the Twins, Castor and Pollux.
At this hour Saturn is over 20° above the southwest horizon and Jupiter is high in the southeast. The Ringed Wonder sets over six hours after sundown and before midnight. Jupiter, setting over two hours before sunup, is in the western sky when Venus rises tomorrow. During morning twilight, the moon is about halfway up in the west below the Twins.
- 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.