2023: The evening sky has a parade of bright planets, with Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars. Venus passes Saturn and Jupiter after sunset, but does not reach Mars.
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by Jeffrey L. Hunt
The chart above from US Naval Observatory data shows the setting times of the bright planets, moon, and bright stars near the ecliptic compared to sunset. Also included are the three phases of twilight. Activity is for up to five hours after sunset in the western sky. The chart does not include the setting positions of the planets.
Also included are the rising times of Saturn and Jupiter compared to sunset. When one of them rises the sunset is in contrast.
Included are conjunctions and close conjunctions of planets, as well as groupings of the moon, planets, and bright stars.
Four bright planets are in the sky after sunset – Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, although the Red Planet sets after five hours after sunset. These four planets are visible throughout the month. Around the middle of the month, The Evening Star turns after the end of the evening twilight. This continues until the beginning of July. Venus transits 0.4° Saturn on the 22ndn.d. Six planets, including Uranus and Neptune, span about 74° from Venus to Mars. The moon conjoins Venus and Saturn the following evening, 7.6° from Venus. The moon is 3.5° from Jupiter on the 25thu. Saturn sinks quickly and disappears into the bright evening twilight near the end of the month.
With three bright planets in the sky, Venus approaches Jupiter. Venus transits 0.6° from Neptune on the 15th. A wide field eyepiece is required to see both in a telescopic field of view. On the 20thu, Venus moves within 10° of Jupiter. The moon is 6.5° from the Evening Star next night. The moon makes a nice conjunction with Jupiter (1.3°) on the 22ndn.d.
Venus transits 0.5° from Jupiter on the 1stSt and remains within 10° to 11u. Mercury passes superior conjunction and moves quickly across the evening sky. The moon passes 1.8° from Jupiter on the 22nd and 5.9° from Venus the following evening. Look for a beautiful pairing of the moon with the Pleiades on the 25thu. Use binoculars to look for a Jupiter-Mercury conjunction (1.3°) on the 27thu. Venus transits 1.2° from Uranus on the 30thu.
Mercury reaches its greatest elongation (19.5°) on the 11thu. Even at a narrow elongation, the ecliptic is near its maximum inclination with the western horizon giving the planet its best evening view of the year. Venus moves from Aries to Taurus, passing Alcyone (the Tau) – the brightest star in the Pleiades – on the 10thuthen Aldebaran (7.4°) at 19u. With the rich starfield, choose your favorite stars and watch the planet pass them by. Use binoculars to try to spot the crescent moon with Mercury on the 20thu. The moon joins Venus (5.6°) on the 23rdrd. Passes Elnath (b Tau) at 30u.
From May 3rd to May 5thu Venus reaches its maximum setting interval 223 minutes after sunset. Mars is plotted on the map starting at the beginning of the month, setting less than five hours after sunset. Passes Pollux (b Gem) on the 8th. Venus moves into Gemini, passing 1.7° from Messier 35 (M35) on the 9thu. The moon transits Venus on the 22ndn.d. The next night, Venus, Mars, the Moon and Pollux fit into the field of view of a pair of binoculars. Venus transits Castor (a Gem) on the 26thu and Pollux on the 29thu.
Venus reaches its greatest elongation (45.4°) on the 4thu. This is marked with GE on the curve of Venus. With this, Venus’ apparent pursuit of Mars begins to stall. At the beginning of the month, the eastward movement of Venus is more than 1° each night. This slows to 0.6° per night at the end of the month. On the 13thu, Venus passes 0.8° from the star cluster of the Beehive. The moon passes 4.6° from Pollux on the 19thu. Two nights later, Venus, Mars and the moon fit into a 6.3° circle. On the 22ndn.d, the moon makes a wide pass at Regulus (5.7°). Five nights later, the moon passes 3.0° from Spica. Venus comes within only 3.6° of Mars at a quasi-conjunction on the 30thu. There is no Venus-Mars conjunction for this evening appearance of Venus.
Venus sets earlier each afternoon, losing over a minute each evening. At the beginning of the month, Venus sets at the end of evening twilight and sets in twilight for the rest of her appearance. Saturn appears in the eastern evening sky when Venus is lower in the west. Venus is in the middle of its period of greatest brightness, marked GB on the map, at 8u. Venus only closes the gap with Regulus at 3.5° on the 16thu, a quasi-link. Mercury begins a poor evening display, reaching its greatest elongation next month. With a diopter for Mercury and the crescent moon on the 18thu. Mercury, Moon, Venus, Canon, and Leo extend at 19.5° on the 19u. The next night, they extend to 18.5°, but the moon is east of the planets and Regulus. On the 22ndn.d Venus begins retrograde, moving quickly toward inferior conjunction and appearance in the morning sky. The moon transits Spica on the 24thu. Jupiter rises less than four hours after sunset.
At the beginning of the month, Venus sets 17 minutes after sunset, moving rapidly toward its inferior conjunction. The planet appears to slip into the brilliant twilight, passing an inferior conjunction between Earth and the Sun on the 13th. Mercury reaches greatest elongation (27.4°) on the 10thu. The separation is a favorable angle, but the ecliptic is badly inclined to the western horizon. On the 18thu, use binoculars to look for Mars and the crescent moon, 1.1° apart. The Red Planet is bathed in brilliant evening twilight that continues through its solar solstice in November. On the 24thu, the moon obscures Antares during the evening. Saturn opposes the sun on August 27thu.
Mars is the last bright planet in the western sky, but it is in bright evening twilight. Meanwhile, Saturn and Jupiter are in the eastern sky. Use binoculars to spot the moon 1.9° from Mars on the 16thu. On the 20thu and 21Stthe moon is close to Antares.
The western sky is largely quiet. Mars sets before Civil Twilight and is lost in the bright sunlight. The moon transits 5.0° from Antares on the 18thu. Mercury is at a superior conjunction on the 20thu and his last evening performance of the year begins.
Jupiter and Saturn are east of the meridian in the early evening. Jupiter is also in opposition in the sky overnight on the 2ndn.d. In the middle of the month, the moon moves through fainter star fields near the ecliptic. Mars is conjunct the sun on the 18thu.
Mercury reaches its greatest elongation (21.3°) on the 4thu, which sets 75 minutes after the sun and shortly after Naval Twilight. At 30 minutes after sunset, it is 6° up SW. On the 14thu, the crescent moon is 11.1° from Mercury. At the end of the month, Saturn begins to set less than five hours after sunset.
The evening sky of the year promises significant activity during the first three quarters of the year. Venus passes planets, bright stars and star clusters. It approaches Mars and Regulus, but there are no conjunctions. The moon makes beautiful groups with planets and stars during the year, hiding Antares on August 24u. During the last quarter, Mars passes behind the sun and into the morning sky. During December, Mercury strikes the evening sky for a brief appearance with the moon.
2023 January 20: Mercury Morning Countdown, Venus-Saturn Conjunction
January 20, 2023: Mercury is visible low in the southeastern sky. The Venus-Saturn conjunction occurs over two nights. Venus closes in.
2023, Morning Sky
2023: This is a summary of the five bright planets, the Moon, and the bright stars near the ecliptic for the year. Venus makes a brilliant appearance later in the year.
2023 January 19: Morning Mercury, Waning Moon, Venus Chases Saturn
January 19, 2023: A razor-thin lunar crescent appears near Mercury before sunrise. Venus continues to approach Saturn until their conjunction in three nights.