November 23, 2022: The constellation Hydra glides across the morning sky. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn hang in the sky during the evening hours.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, IL: Sunrise, 6:50 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 4:24 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Transit times of the Great Red Spot, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 2:52 UT, 12:48 UT, 22:44 UT. Convert the time to your time zone. In the US, subtract five hours for EST, six hours for CST, etc. Use a telescope to see the place.
Mars Watch: Mars is closest at 8:16 p.m. CST on November 30 (2:16 a.m. UT, December 1). The distance is 0.544 astronomical units, also known as AU, where one AU is approximately 93,000,000 miles. Before sunrise, the planet is at 0.550 AU. Tonight, about four hours after sunset, the separation is 0.549 AU.
The moon is New at 4:57 p.m. CST.
Here is today’s planetary forecast:
Bright Mars is the only bright planet in the sky before sunrise. An hour before sunrise, find it about a third of the way up in the western sky. The planet retrogrades in front of Taurus, below (to the west) an imaginary line that connects the horns of Taurus, Elnath and Zeta Tauri. Its westerly direction is noticeable and it is easy to see the difference on any clear morning or evening.
The planet is a week away from its closest approach to Earth. As noted above, the planet is 0.544 astronomical units or approximately 51 million kilometers away. Even at this distance, the planet looks like a bright star. A telescope is needed to view the planet’s seemingly miniature globe.
Mars is brighter than Sirius, the night’s brightest star, and two reddish stars – Betelgeuse and Aldebaran – which are nearby.
Mars is in opposition on December 7e. That evening, the moon covers or obscures the planet.
At this time this morning with no moon in the sky, the weak hydra stretches across the morning sky. His head is almost between Regulus, of Leo, and Procyon, part of Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog. The body zigzags southeast. The snake is dark and difficult to see from urban and suburban locations without the aid of binoculars.
Alphard – which means “the lone serpent star” – stands more than a third of the way up in the south-southwest. The star is slightly brighter than those of the Big Dipper and distinctly reddish in color.
Hydra’s brightest star is 180 light-years across and shines with a brightness of nearly 400 suns. It’s about 25 times the diameter of the sun, which means an empty Alphard could hold over 15,000 suns.
The serpent’s body passes under Crater, the Cup, and Corvus, the Raven. Both are on his back. The tip of the tail is still below the horizon.
In short, the mythology around the constellation describes a scene where Apollo asks a crow to fetch water from a well with a cup. The bird was tempted to eat figs from a nearby tree. During a late return with water for Apollo, the crow carried a water snake in its claws, complaining that the snake was delaying the return. Apollo then placed the water serpent, the raven and the cup in the sky. The serpent prevents the crow from drinking from the cup.
At forty-five minutes before sunrise, Vega is low in the northeast, making its first morning or heliacal sunrise of the year. The date depends on local weather and sky transparency factors. Find a clear horizon by looking in that direction. The star is far enough north that it still appears in the western evening sky when it makes its first appearance in the morning.
Topaz Arcturus, upper right of Vega, is about one-third up in the eastern sky. This star first appeared in the morning sky around October 17e.
Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern half of the sky; that is, north of the celestial equator – an imaginary circle in the sky above the Earth’s equator. Vega is the second brightest star in this half of the sky.
Venus and Mercury continue their slow entry into the evening sky. They went to bed during the bright twilight. Mercury passed Venus yesterday, but is south of the second planet from the sun, setting twenty-one minutes past the sun, while Venus sets five minutes later.
Jupiter and Saturn slowly migrate west as our planet revolves around the sun. Each evening, the stars and planets are further west. Saturn is slightly west of the southern cardinal point, about a third of the way south.
The ringed wonder is slowly moving east towards Nashira and Deneb Algedi. Use a binocular to find the two stars.
The Jovian Giant is “that shining star” to the southeast as night falls. Jupiter’s retrograde ends tomorrow ahead of a dark Pisces star field. The gap with Saturn is 39.3°. The day after tomorrow, the gap opens. Recall that Jupiter overtook Saturn two years ago. They don’t reappear together until 2040.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is visible at 4:44 p.m. CST, during bright twilight, in Chicago. A telescope is needed, but bright light interferes with observation. Skywatchers further east can see the planet higher up and in darker skies.
Mars rises fifty-six minutes after sunset. About three hours after sunset, Mars is high enough in the east-southeast and Saturn is still visible in the southwest. Jupiter is about halfway up in the south. The three bright planets appear suspended along the arc of the ecliptic – the plane of the solar system.
During the night, the stars and planets appear to move west relative to Earth’s rotation. Saturn sets, followed by Jupiter. By tomorrow morning, Mars is once again the only bright planet in the western sky.
November 22, 2022: The thin lunar crescent is visible to the east-southeast before daybreak. During the night, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is visible in the planet’s southern hemisphere.
November 21, 2022: Spica is near the moon in the eastern sky before sunrise. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – the bright outer planets – form an arc in the evening sky.
November 20, 2022: Before sunrise, the crescent moon lies southeast above Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Mars is closest to Earth in ten nights. The countdown begins.