PODCAST FOR THIS ARTICLE
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:00 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 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:
During the night, the moon appears farther westward and appears in the same binocular field with the Beehive star cluster, also known as the Praesepe or manger. An hour before daybreak, the moon appears above the cluster in the field of view. When the moon is out of the region and dimmer, return to this part of the sky and look at the Beehive through a binocular. Point the binocular at the area about midway from Pollux to Regulus.
The moon is high in the west-southwest in front of Cancer, the seemingly empty space between Pollux, a Gemini Twin, and Regulus, Leo’s brightest star.
Brilliant Venus rises nearly four hours before sunup. About an hour later, the planet is low in the east-southeast and bright Jupiter is low in the western sky. Find a clear view toward the respective horizon to see each planet. They are bright enough to shine through the haze that dims and blurs celestial objects.
Venus and Jupiter are nearing their planet-to-planet opposition. This is the last date, December 10th, when both planets are visible in the sky together. This morning they are over 170° apart in the sky.
At one hour before daybreak, Venus is about 25° up in the southeast. It is 5.3° to the left of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star. The planet continues to step eastward opening a wider gap with Spica. They are within 10° through the 6th.
Venus is moving eastward toward Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion’s northern claw, over 18° to the planet’s lower left and over 10° above the horizon. Venus passes the distant star December 17th.
Today Zubenelgenubi is part of Libra, but it retains the name when it was part of Scorpius. The Scorpion is below the east-southeast horizon and the claws are reaching into the sky.
Antares, the constellation’s brightest star, is at solar conjunction today, meaning that it is lined up with the sun in the sky. It makes its first morning appearance, known as the heliacal rising, around the 25th although this occurs at earlier dates from more southerly latitudes. Venus passes the star in a wide conjunction spanning 6.3° on January 7th.
Mars is immersed in bright sunlight, rising nearly 20 minutes before the sun. It makes its first morning appearance during the new year.
Mercury is at its greatest elongation in two evenings. The planet appears farthest from the sun that sky watchers on Earth see it. The planet’s visibility suffers from a poorly inclined ecliptic compared to the southwestern horizon.
This evening at sunset, the planet is nearly 10° above the horizon. Thirty minutes after sundown, find the it with a binocular over 5° above the horizon.
At one hour after nightfall, Saturn is 35° up in the south. It slowly moves eastward in front of Aquarius, to the right of Skat and Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart) and 7.4° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail. Use a binocular to see the stars, especially in areas with outdoor lighting.
Look for the star Fomalhaut, slightly dimmer than Saturn, about 20° to the planet’s lower left.
At this hour bright Jupiter is about 30° above the eastern horizon. It is retrograding, appearing to move westward compared to the star field, in front of Aries, 11.3° to the lower right of Hamal, the Ram’s brightest star, and 13.6° above Menkar, Cetus’ nostril. Retrograde continues until near month’s end. The planet is noticeably west of an imaginary line between the referenced stars.
If the sky is exceptionally clear, look at the Pleiades and Hyades with a binocular.
Moonrise occurs nearly five hours after sundown. As the midnight hour approaches, the lunar orb, 68% illuminated, is nearly 20° up in the east, 11.2° above Regulus.
Saturn sets in the west-southwest about six hours after sundown. Jupiter is low in the western sky when Venus rises tomorrow morning. The moon is in the south-southwest, near Regulus, before daybreak.
- 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.