2023, December 1:  Venus Moves Past Spica, Moon, Beehive

Venus in Taurus, July 28, 2020
2020, July 28: Venus, in the constellation Taurus, is 4.3° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau), the Southern Horn of the Bull.


by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:59 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.

Snowy Tree

After today, the sun rises at seven o’clock or after in Chicago until February 4, 2024, sixty-five days into the future.

Today’s daylight is nine hours, twenty-two minutes long, eighteen minutes longer than the shortest daylight period, beginning December 18th and ending the 25th.

Earliest sunset, 4:20 p.m. begins tomorrow and runs through the 15th.  Latest sunrise, 7:18 a.m. Central Time occurs December 28th-January 10th.

The winter solstice occurs on the 21st at 9:27 p.m. CST.

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, December 1: Venus and Spica are in the southeast before sunrise.

Step outside an hour before sunup this morning. Brilliant Venus shines from the southeastern sky, over 25° above the horizon.  It rises seventeen minutes short of four hours before sunrise.  The planet is making a wide pass of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star.  This morning the gap is 4.7°. 

Venus continues its eastward dance, opening a wider separation with the distant star.  It is within 10° of Spica through the 6th.

Venus is moving toward Zubenelgenubi, one of the Scorpion’s claws.  The conjunction occurs the 17th.  This morning the Morning Star is less than 20° to the upper right of the star, while Zubenelgenubi is nearly 10° above the horizon.

The Scorpion is reaching across the horizon at this hour.  The same effect occurs in the evening sky later during the spring.  Zubenelgenubi is about the brightness of the Big Dipper stars.

Through a telescope, Venus shows a morning gibbous phase 68% illuminated.

Chart Caption – 2023, December 1: The moon is near Pollux before daybreak.

The gibbous moon, 83% illuminated, is farther westward at this hour, over halfway up in the west-southwest, 4.5° to the upper left of Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins. The lunar orb is within the boundaries of Cancer, the celestial region with dim stars between Pollux and Regulus.

Earlier this morning at three hours before sunrise, Venus is low in the east-southeast, while Jupiter is in the west-northwest. Both are less than 10° above their respective horizons.  The Venus-Jupiter opposition occurs on the 10th when Venus rises as Jupiter sets.  After this date, Jupiter sets before Venus rises.  They are not easily visible in the sky at the same time until November 2024.  This morning they are about 170° apart.

Mars is slowly emerging from bright sunlight into the eastern morning sky before sunup.  This morning it rises only eighteen minutes before the sun.  It does not appear far enough from the sun for easy observation.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2023, December 1: Saturn is in the south after nightfall between Deneb Algedi and Skat.

Mercury is nearing its greatest elongation from the sun in three evenings.  At sunset, the speedy planet is nearly 10° above the southwest horizon.  Thirty minutes later, it is over 5° up.  Use a binocular to see it.

At one hour after sundown, Saturn is in the southern sky in front of Aquarius’ dim stars.  It is slowly moving eastward toward Skat, the Aquarian’s leg and Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart).  The two stars are dim and a binocular is likely needed to see them, especially in regions with outdoor lighting.  This evening the planet is 7.3° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail.  The pair tightly fit into the same binocular field.

Look for Fomalhaut, dimmer that Saturn, nearly 20° to the planet’s lower left.

Chart Caption – 2023, December 1: An hour after sundown, Jupiter is in the eastern sky, west of an imaginary line from Hamal to Menkar.

Bright Jupiter is nearly 30° above the eastern horizon.  It is retrograding in front of Aries’ distant stars, appearing 13.6° above Menkar, Cetus’ nostril, and 11.3° to the lower right of Hamal, the Ram’s brightest star.

With the illusion of retrograde, Jupiter is west of an imaginary line from Hamal to Menkar.  The planet stops moving westward and resumes its eastward trek at month’s end.

Photo Caption – The Pleiades star cluster. (U.S. Naval Observatory)

Look for the Pleiades star cluster, nearly 25° to the lower left of Jupiter.  Resembling a tiny dipper, the stellar bundle is best viewed through a binocular.

Aldebaran, Taurus brightest star, is below the Pleiades, and nearly 10° above the horizon.  This topaz star rises at sunset in five evenings.  Notice a sideways letter “V” that includes brighter Aldebaran.  While the bright star is not part of the cluster, look for the Hyades with the binocular.

Other bright stars of the region, such as Betelgeuse, Procyon, and Rigel are soon rising as the sun sets.  They are visible later during the evening at this season.

Chart Caption – 2023, December 1: Six hours after sundown, the gibbous moon is in the east-northeast below Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins.

The moon rises around four hours after sundown.  This seems late, but considering the early sunset, this occurs about 8:15 p.m. in Chicago.  Two hours later the lunar orb, 77% illuminated, is over 20° up in the east-northeast.  It is in front of Cancer, 13.6° to the lower left of Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins.

The constellation of the Crab covers a large section of the sky, but its stars are dim.  Most are dimmer than those in the Big Dipper.

Chart Caption – 2023, December 1: Through a binocular, the moon appears with Cancer’s Beehive star cluster.

Aim your binocular at the moon this evening.  The lunar orb is bright enough to leave a temporary afterimage in your vision, like ‘the spots” that appear for a short time after a camera flash.  In the field, place the moon toward the edge of the field at the ten o’clock position.  The Beehive star cluster, also known as the Praesepe – meaning manger – is visible near the field’s center.  Two stars, Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, are donkeys eating from the feed crib. Move the binocular slightly to the lower right so the glaring moon is outside the field of view and the cluster is more toward the center.  Return to this part of the sky with the binocular when the moon is away from it to view the cluster under more favorable viewing conditions.

Photo Caption – The Beehive or Praesepe star cluster (National Science Foundation Photo).

The star cluster is about twice the distance of the Pleiades and it does not have brighter stars that are easily visible to unaided vision.  Away from outdoor lighting, the cluster resembles a hazy cloud between Pollux and Regulus, easily visible to unassisted vision. 


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