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:
The Venus-Jupiter opposition occurs in three mornings when Jupiter sets as Venus rises. This signals the end of this pair appearing in the sky at the same time. The window to see them together rapidly shrinks.
Unlike most stars and planets, Venus and Jupiter shine through the haze that dims and blurs celestial objects that are rising or setting. The most common sighting of this effect is when the sun or moon appears flattened and orange. The filtering effects of the atmosphere near the horizon makes many celestial wonders nearly invisible when they are rising or setting.
This morning the window to see them in the sky at the same time is twenty-five minutes long beginning three hours, thirty minutes before daybreak. Find an observing spot with a clear horizon looking toward the east-southeast for Venus and west-northwest for Jupiter. Set an early alarm.
The crescent moon rises two hours before brilliant Venus. After Jupiter sets, the Morning Star is the lone bright planet.
An hour before sunrise, the crescent moon, 29% illuminated, is nearly halfway up in the south-southeast. It is 2.1° to the lower right of Porrima, also known as Gamma Virginis. The moon and the star easily fit into the same binocular field of view.
The lunar night is gently lighted by earthshine, sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land. The effect is visible without optical assistance, but easily visible through a binocular.
The lunar orb is over 20° to the upper right of Venus that is 10.0° to the lower left of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star. The planet continues to step eastward, away from Spica each morning. Venus and the moon are together in two mornings as Earth’s nearest neighbor overtakes the brilliant planet.
Venus is heading toward the Scorpion’s claws, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. It passes between them on December 18th.
After its solar conjunction, Mars is slowing moving into the eastern morning sky, although it rises twenty-five minutes before the sun, during bright morning twilight. It gains a minute of rising time compared to sunrise each morning. During late January 2024, it appears with Mercury before sunrise.
Mercury is a challenging sight after sundown. At sunset, it is 10° up in the southwest. Thirty minutes later, it is over 6° above the horizon. A binocular is needed to see it. As the sky darkens, it is easier to see, but it is lower in the sky.
By an hour after sundown, Saturn is 35° up in the south. Not as bright as Venus or Jupiter, it is easy to see. It is nearly 20° to the upper right of Fomalhaut, the mouth of the Southern Fish.
The Ringed Wonder is slowly trekking eastward in front of Aquarius’ dim stars, 10.5° to the lower right of Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr on the chart), 10.1° to the upper right of Skat, the Aquarian’s leg, and 7.7° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail. In areas with outdoor lighting, use a binocular to see the stars. None of the referenced stars fit into the same field of view with the planet.
Bright Jupiter is in the east-southeast at this hour. It is over 30° above the horizon.
The Jovian Giant is retrograding in front of Aries, 11.4° to the lower right of Hamal, Aries’ brightest star, and 13.9° to the upper right of Menkar, part of Cetus. The planet is noticeably west of an imaginary line between the two stars. Use a binocular to see them, especially Menkar. Jupiter’s illusion of retrograde concludes near the end of the month.
Saturn is farther westward during the night, setting less than six hours after sundown. Jupiter is south over an hour before Saturn sets. It is low in the west-northwest for less than twenty minutes when Venus rises.
- 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.