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by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:01 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:
A week before their planet-to-planet opposition, Venus is low in the east-southeast and Jupiter is low in the western sky. They are bright enough to shine through the haze at the horizon that blurs and dims celestial objects. This morning they are over 170° apart. Find them before Jupiter sets about three hours before sunrise.
At one hour before daybreak, the slightly gibbous moon, 66% illuminated, is high in the southwest, near the Sickle of Leo and Regulus, the constellation’s brightest star. The lunar orb is 8.8° to the right of the Lion’s brightest star.
The sickle resembles a backwards question mark, but is namesake is the farmer’s harvesting tool with a curved blade and a handle, giving the appearance that the implement is ready to slice the moon. Eta Leonis (η Leo on the chart), dimmer than the Big Dipper’s stars, is 6.2° to the upper left of the moon. Use a binocular to spot it. Later today from Madagascar and southern Africa, the moon occults or eclipses this star. This occurs before moonrise in the Americas.
The moon is at the Last Quarter phase at 11:49 p.m. CST tomorrow.
Farther eastward, Venus is over 25° up in the southeast and 6.1° to the lower left of Spica. A few mornings ago, Venus passed the star in a wide conjunction. It is heading toward Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion’s northern claw, 17.0° to the planet’s lower left and over 10° above the horizon. This star is about the brightness of the dipper’s stars.
Venus is lower in the sky each morning. This morning it rises nineteen minutes short of four hours before sunrise. By month’s end, it loses over forty minutes of rising time compared to daybreak. It appears noticeably lower in the sky from week to week.
Mars is west of the sun, meaning that it rises before sunrise, but it is not high enough in the sky for easy observation. The Red Planet rises twenty minutes before the sun, becoming visible later next year.
Mercury is at its greatest elongation tomorrow. At sunset, the planet is nearly 10° up in the southwest. This is not a good appearance for the solar system’s innermost planet for northern hemisphere sky watchers. By thirty minutes after sundown, it is about 6° above the horizon. In the bright twilight, use a binocular to see the planet.
Saturn is farther south during the early evening. One hour after sunset, the Ringed Wonder is over 35° above the horizon. It is slowly trekking eastward in front of Aquarius, 10.7° to the lower right of Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart), 10.2° to the upper right of Skat, the Aquarian’s leg, and 7.5° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, meaning “the kid’s tail.”
Look for the star Fomalhaut, the mouth of the Southern Fish, nearly 20° to the lower left of Saturn and slightly dimmer than the planet.
Bright Jupiter is easy to spot at this hour, over 30° up in the east. This planet retrogrades in front of Aries, 11.3° to the lower right of Hamal, the Ram’s brightest star, and 13.7° above Menkar, Cetus’ nostril. The planet is noticeably west of an imaginary line from Hamal to Menkar.
The illusion of retrograde continues until month’s end. It then begins to move easttward compared to the starfield.
As the midnight hour approaches, the gibbous moon, 59% illuminated, is low in the east-northeast, 3.6° to the left of Regulus and 3.5° below Eta Leonis. This morning the moon was west of this star.
Saturn sets in the southwest over an hour before moonrise. Jupiter is south about five hours after sunset, setting in the west nearly three hours before sunrise, when Venus is low in the east-southeast.
- 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.