PODCAST FOR THIS ARTICLE
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:04 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:
Venus and Jupiter are nearing their opposition December 10th. Afterward Jupiter sets before Venus rises. Venus steps eastward about 1° each morning as Jupiter slowly retrogrades, appears to move westward against the starfield. On opposition morning the planets are 180° apart. This morning there’s a thirty-minute window to see Venus, in the east-southeast, and Jupiter low in the west-northwest, before the Jovian Giant sets. This occurs beginning three hours, forty minutes before sunrise.
Set an early alarm and find a spot with clear natural horizons looking toward the respective planets. A hilltop or elevated structure helps to see over any obstructions.
At one hour before sunrise, the crescent moon, 38% illuminated, is over halfway up in the south-southeast and over 30° to the upper right of brilliant Venus. The lunar orb is in front of Virgo.
Later today, tomorrow morning for sky watchers in Europe, Middle East, and western Asia, the moon occults or eclipses the star Zaniah, also known as Eta Virginis.
In two mornings, the moon is with Spica and makes a beautiful pairing with Venus on the 9th.
Venus is widening its gap to Spica, 8.9° to the planet’s upper right. The Morning Star is heading for the Scorpion’s claws, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, over 13° to the lower left. Venus passes 1.9° from the southern claw December 17th, and the next morning passes between the stars.
Mars is still immersed in bright sunlight. It rises only twenty-four minutes before the sun.
Mercury is moving toward inferior conjunction, between Earth and Sun. A few days after its greatest elongation, it is over 10° above the southwest horizon at sunset. Thirty minutes later, it is over 6° above the horizon, and a binocular object. No other bright stars are nearby to reference, so it may be necessary to slowly sweep the binocular from side to side above the southwest horizon. Fifteen minutes later, when the sky is darker, the planet is only 5° up in the sky.
Mercury sets seventy-seven minutes after nightfall. Look for the planet during the next four evenings.
An hour after sunset, Saturn is over 35° above the south horizon and about 20° to the upper right of Fomalhaut, the mouth of the Southern Fish, that is nearly 20° above the horizon. The Ringed Wonder is slightly brighter than the star.
Saturn is slowly moving eastward in front of Aquarius, 10.7° to the lower right of Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart), 10.3° to the upper right of Skat, meaning “the leg,” and 7.6° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, meaning “the kid’s tail.” A binocular is needed to see the stars from urban and suburban settings.
Jupiter is farther eastward at this hour. While not as bright as Venus, it is the “bright star in the east” after sunset. The planet is retrograding, appearing to move westward compared to Aries’ distant stars, 11.4° to the lower right of the Ram’s Hamal, and 13.8° to the upper right of Menkar, Cetus’ nostril. The planet is noticeably west of an imaginary line between the two stars. A binocular may be necessary to see them.
With the binocular, look for the Pleiades star cluster, over 24° to the Jovian Giant’s lower left. A few dozen stars are visible with the optical help.
Aldebaran, less than 15° below the Pleiades, is the brightest star in Taurus. This evening Aldebaran rises at sunset. It is in the sky all night, setting in the west-northwest at sunrise. It can be found in the south at midnight.
Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster make a sideways letter “V,” forming the Bull’s head. Use a binocular to spot the shape.
Orion’s Betelgeuse is the next bright star to rise at sunset. While the Hunter is visible later in the night, Betelgeuse rises at sunset during early January followed by Rigel, Orion’s knee a few nights later.
During the night, the wheel of the sky appears to turn westward from Earth’s rotation. Saturn sets in the west-southwest six hours after sunset. Jupiter is south an hour before Saturn sets. The solar system’s largest planet is low in the west-northwest when Venus rises over three hours before sunrise. The crescent moon rises nearly six hours before sunrise tomorrow.
- 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.