PODCAST FOR THIS ARTICLE
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:06 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 wonderous Venus-Moon conjunction occurs this morning in the predawn southeastern sky. Step outside about an hour before daybreak. The Morning Star is nearly 25° above the horizon and 3.8° to the upper left of the crescent moon that is 13% illuminated.
Venus is 12.2° to the lower left of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, and 10.0° to the upper right of Zubenelgenubi, the Scorpion’s northern claw.
This is a do-not-miss event, perhaps not as well publicized as a solar or lunar eclipse, but just as impressive in its own right. This lovely crescent moon with Venus nearby is an exceptional scene. Social media feeds will likely fill with images of this pair above scenic views from across the globe.
The pair rises over three and one-half hours before daybreak and they can be seen after sunrise. In a clear sky, they are visible during the daytime to the right of the sun.
Both easily fit in to the same binocular field of view.
The optical assist greatly improves the view of earthshine on the crescent between the lunar cusps or horns. This effect is from sunlight reflecting from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land to softly light up the lunar night
Earthshine can be easily photographed with a tripod mounted camera and exposures up to a few seconds, depending on the camera’s settings.
The Venus-Jupiter opposition occurs tomorrow, when Jupiter sets as Venus rises. This morning a window lasting nearly fifteen minutes three hours, thirty minutes before sunrise to see Venus and Jupiter in the sky at the same time. They are not again in the sky at the same time until late November 2024. Set an early alarm.
Mars is not visible. Rising less than thirty minutes before the sun, it is immersed in bright sunlight.
Mercury is visible low in the southwest during brighter evening twilight. At sundown, the solar system’s innermost planet is over 10° above the horizon. Thirty minutes later, a binocular is needed to see it over 6° up in the southwest. Fifteen minutes later, the sky is darker, but the planet is less than 5° above the horizon. To find the planet, sweep the binocular slowly along the western horizon multiple times.
Mercury is beginning its retreat back into bright twilight. This evening it sets nearly eighty minutes after sunset. In a week it sets nearly twenty-five minutes earlier compared to sunset than tonight’s interval. It is heading toward inferior conjunction between Earth and the sun on December 22nd.
By an hour after sundown, Saturn is in the southern sky, over 35° up in the sky. The planet is easy to find, although it is not spectacularly bright like Venus or Jupiter. The planet is slowly trekking eastward in front of dim Aquarius, 7.8° to the upper left of Deneb Algedi, Capricornus’ tail, 10.0° to the upper right of Skat, the Aquarian’s leg, and 10.4° to the lower right of Lambda Aquarii. Use a binocular to see the stars, especially in locales with outdoor lighting.
At this hour, bright Jupiter gleams from the east-southeastern sky. The planet is slowly retrograding in front of Aries, 11.4° to the lower right of Hamal, Aries’ brightest star, and 14.0° to the upper right of Menkar, part of Cetus. The Jovian Giant is west of an imaginary line between the two stars.
During the night Jupiter and Saturn are farther westward. Saturn sets in the west-southwest over five hours after sunset. Jupiter is south about an hour before Saturn sets. It is low in the west several hours before sunrise when it is at opposition with Venus, rising as Jupiter sets.
- 2023, December 21: Winter Solstice, Great Conjunction Plus 3 YearsDecember 21, 2023: Winter begins in the northern hemisphere. Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the evening sky three years after their Great Conjunction.
- 2023, December 20: Morning Star, Evening Moon Nears JupiterDecember 20, 2023: Brilliant Venus is in the southeast before daybreak. After nightfall the gibbous moon nears Jupiter in the southeast sky.
- 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.