HomeScienceOuter SpaceRare view of five planets after sunset - when the curves align

Rare view of five planets after sunset – when the curves align

December 23, 2022: Watch a rare view of the five bright planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars – simultaneously after sunset.

Photo Caption – November 20, 2020: Before sunrise, bright Venus is low to the east-southeast, 5.8° to the lower left of Spica. Mercury is low in the sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois: sunrise, 7:16 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:24 PM CST. Check local resources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Daylight has reached the shortest time interval of the year, nine hours and eight minutes. The latest sunrise time (7:18 a.m. CST) begins on the 28the and lasts until January 10e.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot transit times when it is at the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 7:46 UT, 17:42 UT; Dec 24, 3:38 UT. Convert the time to your time zone. In the US, subtract five hours for EST, six hours for CST, and so on. Use a telescope to view the spot. Times are from Sky & Telescope magazine.

Here’s today’s planet forecast:

Morning Heaven

Chart Caption – In late December, The Big Dipper points the way to other stars when high in the sky. This morning it helps to identify Leo.

The morning sky is without a bright planet. Tomorrow morning at 04:17 CST, the moon will begin lunation 1237. The lunation is the number of lunar cycles since 1923.

Step outside about an hour before sunrise and look southwest. Leo, with its bright star Regulus, is more than halfway in the sky. The constellation is shown here every month when the moon passes over these stars.

This morning’s focus is the Big Dipper high in the northern sky. On the map, note the overlying mark, also called the zenith – the highest point in the sky.

When the dipper is high in the sky, such as during late autumn and early winter mornings, it helps us locate other stars. The pointer stars at the end of the bowl lead us to Polaris, the North Star.

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Polaris is located near the Earth’s north pole. At the Geographic North Pole, Polaris is nearly overhead. As such, it doesn’t seem to move much at night. For casual observing it is north. From mid-northern latitudes, it is about halfway in the sky. It is not the brightest star, but number 48 on the list of the brightest stars visible in Earth’s sky. The star is not visible south of Earth’s equator.

The curved handle points in the direction of Arcturus, which is high in the southeast.

Leo is in the opposite direction from Polaris. It can be found by going through the bottom of the spoon’s bowl.

Although there are no planets in the morning sky until the end of January, several bright stars adorn the sky before sunrise.

Evening sky

Chart caption – 2022, December 23: Forty minutes after sunset, four of the five planets are visible from southwest to south-southeast.

Over the next five evenings, look for a rare view of the five bright planets, from the point of sunset: Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. The next time five planets will be in the sky at once will be mid-April 2036.

First, find a clearing with a clear horizon to the southwest. A hilltop or elevated structure can help to see Mercury and Venus near the horizon.

Second, take binoculars. This is useful for finding Mercury and Venus, and possibly Saturn during brighter twilight.

The observing window is narrow and takes no more than 30 minutes for Venus to be too low to see. Start looking for Venus and Mercury near the southwest horizon about 30 minutes after sunset.

At this time, Venus is nearly 5° above the southwest horizon and to the right of the southwesterly direction. Venus is far enough from the sun to be seen without binoculars, but use it to find the planet initially.

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Mercury is 4.6 degrees to the upper left of the Evening Star and is in the same binocular field when Venus moves to the lower right portion of the frame.

Try to find Jupiter about halfway to the south-southeast and Mars to the east-northeast. Saturn is probably not visible at this level of twilight.

The brightness of the atmosphere is a factor. High cirrus clouds or local cloud cover can make this view challenging. Sometimes Jupiter and Mars can be seen in this time interval.

Continue to search for the planets for the next 25 to 30 minutes. 40 minutes after sunset, Venus is lower in the sky with Mercury at the same distance as before.

Saturn is about 30 degrees south-southwest – that’s about a third of the way up from the horizon. It is the same distance to the upper left corner of Mercury.

Chart caption – 2022, December 23: Forty minutes after sunset, Mars is in the east-northeast near Aldebaran and Capella.

Jupiter is in the south-southeast — halfway across the sky — and Mars is about 20 degrees above the east-northeast horizon. Capella and Aldebaran are visible near Mars.

Look for the five planets along an arc from Venus to Mars. Don’t confuse Saturn with the star Fomalhaut which is lower in the sky and almost above the southern direction.

Tomorrow evening, the crescent moon will join Venus and Mercury in the southwest. Two evenings later, the crescent moon is near Saturn. That helps with identification. Meanwhile, Mercury is still close to Venus, but its brightness is beginning to fade.

Chart caption – 2022, December 23: Saturn seen through binoculars near Nashira and Deneb Algedi.

Look at Saturn through the binoculars two hours after sunset to check its eastward direction compared to Deneb Algedi and Nashira. The Ringed Wonder is located 1.4° to the upper right of Nashira. The planet passes the star on the evenings of the 27e and 28e.

Jupiter (NASA photo)

At 21:38 CST, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is at the best viewing location on the planet, but from Chicago the planet is only 20 degrees above the west-southwest horizon, not an ideal spot. Skywatchers with telescopes further west can see the planet higher in the sky and in clearer skies.

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