What's Up in the Night Sky?

February 2023 - Vol. 27, No. 2

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

The "Winter Triangle" asterism shines high overhead. It appears as an inverted triangle formed by three bright stars: Sirius (Canis Major) below, reddish Betelgeuse (Orion) upper right, and Procyon (Canis Minor). Betelgeuse is also the upper left member of my favorite asterism, hour-glass shaped Orion. If you have a clear sky, look for a hazy patch of light below Orion's middle "belt" star. That is M42, the Great Orion Nebula, the site of intense star formation. (At least it was some 1,600 years ago since it took that long for the light to reach you!) Other bright stars of interest are Rigel, the bottom left star in Orion, Aldebaran (Taurus) in the SW, Castor and Pollux (the Gemini twins) high above the winter triangle and orangish Arcturus (Bootes)right on the E horizon. The "Big Dipper" of Ursa Major stands majestically high in the N.

MERCURY in the evening sky presents the best apparition of the year for the southern hemisphere. VENUS rising ever higher in the evening sky is in conjunction with Neptune on February 15. MARS still residing in Taurus will be at 0.0 by mid-month, fading as Earth speeds away after opposition. JUPITER sets early in the evening sky. SATURN, will not be visible this month in conjunction with the Sun on the 16th. URANUS is occulted by the Moon on the February 25, ending a series of 15 consecutive occultations. NEPTUNE in Aquarius will be in conjunction with Venus on the 15th, requiring a telescope to observe.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times or check with the U.S. Naval observatory. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

03 Alpha Geminorum, Pollux, 1.9 deg. N. of Moon.
04 Moon at apogee.
05 This month's full Moon is often called the Snow Moon.
07 Zodiacal Light is visible. Look W from a dark location, at about an hour after sunset, to view zodiacal light. ("Zodiacal light" is a vertical band of white light believed to be sunlight reflected from meteoroids found in the plane of the ecliptic, the apparent "path" of the Sun, Moon and Planets as they travel across our sky.) It will appear to be a very large, but very dim, pyramid of of white light, "leaning" to the left. This effect may be visible for the next two weeks on dark nights.
14 Antares 1.8 deg. S. of Moon.
15 Venus 0.01 deg. S. of Neptune.
Mercury at aphelion.
16 Saturn in conjunction with the Sun.
18 Mercury 4.0 deg. N. of Moon.
19 Moon at perigee, expect large tides.
21 Neptune 2 deg. N. of Moon.
22 Venus 2 deg. N. of Moon.
Jupiter 1.2 deg. N. of Moon occultation from parts of W.Antarctica, Falkland Islands and S. South America.
25 Uranus 1.3 deg. S. of Moon, occultation from the south half of Greenland and parts of N. Canada.
28 Mars 1.1 deg. S. of Moon, occultation visible from N. Mongolia, Central and NW Russia, N. Scandinavia, Svalbard, NW Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe islands.

Lunar Almanac for January 2023

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
last quarter moon Last Qtr
Deep Space & Planets

Topic of the month: 2023 Preview

Mercury iconOur innermost planet MERCURY starts off 2023 in Sagittarius but is heading into the Sun for inferior conjunction on January 7, not visible in the sky. Because the planet's orbital period is 87.96 days, each year this swiftly moving planet will generally cross between the Earth and Sun three times. Unfortunately for northern observers, Mercury is at its best when the angle of the ecliptic is the shallowest. The best time to observe Mercury is when it is near its greatest distance from the Sun each time it laps the Earth. Greatest Elongation West (GEW) occurs on January 30, (-0.2 mag) favors southern observers in the morning sky. Mercury will be at superior conjunction on March 17, therefore not visible. Mercury and Jupiter will meet up on March 28, but will not be easy to observe. On April 11, Mercury reaches Greatest Elongation East (GEE) (19.5 deg.) setting 2 hours after the Sun. May 1 is the date for Mercury's second inferior conjunction in 2023. Mercury reaches GEW again on May 29 and will be at +0.5 mag. Again, the southern observers are favored.

On July 1, Mercury will reach superior conjunction again. The next Mercury event is GEE on August 10, when the planet will be the farthest from the sun that it gets this year, 27.4 deg. away. Its disk will be 50% illuminated. This apparition favors the southern observers. Dedicated observers might be able to find Mercury in the daytime, but must take care with the Sun. On August 13, Mercury(0.4 mag) and Mars (1.8 mag) come together in the evening sky, but don't get excited if you live in the northern hemisphere. Mercury again reaches its third inferior conjunction on September 6. On October 22, Mercury reaches GEW and will be 17.9 deg. away from the Sun. Mercury reaches superior conjunction again on October 20. On December 4, Mercury's next GEE occurs, with the planet shining at -0.3 mag. This year, Mercury manages to squeak in a fourth inferior conjunction that occurs on December 22.

Venus iconEarth's "sister" planet, VENUS opens the year in in the constellation of Capricornus slowly entering the evening sky after last year's superior conjunction. The planet Venus and Earth have a resonance where every 8 years, Venus returns to a position fairly close to the one it had previously. Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun five times in those eight years. Venus catches up with Saturn for a conjunction in the evening sky on January 22. Catch these two planets in evening twilight because they set shortly after the Sun. They are joined the next evening by the crescent Moon. It should be noted that Venus will continue to rise in the sky but Saturn is moving toward the Sun toward solar conjunction. Venus will continue to rise in the evening sky, joining Neptune in a great conjunction when the two planets appear less than 1' apart at 12:25 UT on February 15. Venus will shine at -4.0 but Neptune's 7.4 magnitude disk will require a telescope to find. On March 2, Venus catches up with Jupiter, the two passing less than a degree apart. The two planets should put on quite a show - - watch in the evening sky as Venus appears to speed toward Jupiter each night. Our solar system's largest planet is moving toward the Sun while Venus is moving away from the solar disk. On March 24, Venus and the Moon will treat some observers to an occultation visible in S. and E. Africa, Madagascar, S. and E. Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, India. S. Asia, and the Philippines. Next Venus will be in conjunction with Uranus on March 31. Venus will be bright, but Uranus will require some kind of magnification at 5.8 mag. Venus will swing by the Pleiades open star cluster in April.

Venus reaches GEE (45.4 deg) on June 4, when it is shining at -4.4 mag. By now evening sky watchers are aware that Venus and Mars are moving toward each other, at their closest they are 3.6 deg. apart on July 1. After GEE, Venus begins moving back toward the Sun and the two closest planets to Earth seem to begin moving apart. Mars begins chasing after Venus but, of course, will never catch up because Venus moves faster. On July 14, Venus and Mars will be spread out over the horizon with the bright star Regulus between them in the evening sky. Venus will reach inferior conjunction on August 13, disappearing for a few days, until it appears again in the morning sky. But in the north, the morning twilight makes it hard to see Venus until it rises far enough away from the Sun. Catching a glimpse of Venus near inferior conjunction using a telescope, a fine thin crescent may be observed. Again watch out for the Sun because its rays can blind the human eye. Venus reaches GEW (46 deg) on October 23. It will be shining down from high in the northern sky just below the bright stars in the constellation Leo. Another lunar occultation occurs on November 9 for those in North America (except Alaska and N. Canada), northern Central America, North Caribbean, and Bermuda.

Mars iconMARS rings in 2023 at -1.2 mag. moving retrograde through the stars of the constellation of Taurus after December's opposition, hanging out between the Pleiades and the Hyades, outshining Aldebaran (.85 mag.) The first Mars event of the year comes on January 3 when Mars is occulted by the 12-day old Moon that will be visible from Southern and Eastern Africa, Madagascar, and Maldives. This occultation is the first of 2 occultations this month, 2 more will follow later this year. Mars hits its second stationary point on January 12, resuming its prograde motion. Mars' second occultation will occur on January 31, visible from Polynesia, southern U.S.A., Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, and northern South America. Through the month of January, Mars will lose much of its brilliance, shining at a mere -0.3 mag at month's end. After opposition, observers tend to lose interest but Mars continues its journey.

On February 28, it is occulted by the Moon, visible from N. Mongolia, Central and NW Russia, N. Scandinavia, Svalbard, NW Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe islands. At mid-month Mars passes out of negative magnitudes, and the red planet is shining at .42 mag as we move into March. On March 16, Mars will be at eastern quadrature or 90 deg. E. of the Sun, shining at .73 mag. Mars passes between the horns of the bull, El Nath and Tianguan (Zeta Tau.) the second week of March, bursting into Gemini around March 25. For star color comparison, Mars will make a triangle with Aldebaran and Betelgeuse (No, it hasn't gone supernova yet!) two orange or reddish stars. In Gemini Mars will meet up with Mebsuta or Epsilon Geminorum, approaching a mere .15 degrees South. Then Mars will pass below Castor and Pollux, the Alpha and Beta star of Gemini during the month of April. Around May 23rd, Mars and Venus gather with the Moon, Castor, and Pollux. This will be interesting to watch each evening. Tracking them would be a nice project for young astronomers. Even during a single observing session, the motion of the moon and planets may be detected.(Compare positions 15-20 minutes apart for an hour or more.) Check the entry under Venus for a more detailed description its interaction with Mars.

When Mars pops into Cancer around May 17, the red planet will now be shining at 1.48 magnitude. When Mars moves into Leo from Cancer, it will be less than 5 deg. away from Venus, but the two are not destined to meet this time around. On July 9-10, Mars has a close conjunction with Regulus, the Alpha Star of the constellation of Leo. They will be a mere 0.7 deg. away at they closest, not visible from North America, but an interesting event with Venus nearby. Summer twilight as usual will be a problem so be ready at sunset. On August 17, Mars passes into Virgo, shining at 1.8 magnitude, it will be challenging to find it in the evening twilight throughout the end of this apparition of Mars. As the red planet approaches the Sun for Earth-based observers it will brighten up a little bit, but will hug the horizon and be visible during twilight only. An occultation with the thin crescent moon on September 16 at 19 UT might be a daytime observation in North America for dedicated observers. Mars will be too close to the Sun to be observed as it reaches conjunction on November 18, 2023. The next opposition occurs on January 16, 2025.

Jupiter iconThe solar system's behemoth planet is the gas giant JUPITER. Jupiter may be the amateurs' favorite planet, as it is observable for 12 months every 13-month period. Its super fast rotation speed, that makes a revolution every 9h 51m, allows observers to study its many features: belts, festoons, giant storms and many other effects that one can't really predict. Jupiter's four largest moons, are called the "Galilean Moons" after their discoverer. In order of closeness to Jupiter, they are (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They transit the disk of Jupiter leaving super round black shadows that crawl across the disc. The planet is a favorite target for astrophotographers. As the year opens, Jupiter sets just before midnight in the constellation Pisces. On March 2, the giant planet will meet up with Venus, the two brightest planets will dazzle at -2.1 and -3.9, setting around 8:45 pm for N. America. Jupiter will have an occultation with the moon on March 22, visible from the easternmost Polynesia, Galapagos islands, northern S. America, parts of Central America and Caribbean islands. Jupiter will disappear from the evening sky for conjunction with the Sun on April 11. The giant planet slips into Aries mid-May where it remains for the rest of the year. By then, the gas giant will be peeking out in the early morning sky. Another lunar occultation occurs visible from most of northern Central America, northern Caribbean, North America, Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, northern British Isles, Scandinavia, and northwest Russia. Jupiter rises earlier until it is rising well before midnight at the end of August. Jupiter reaches its first stationary point and begins retrograde motion on September 4. Now dominating the evening sky, Jupiter will be at opposition on November 3, 2023. It will shine brilliantly at -2.9 when the disk will be 100-percent illuminated. The giant planet will present a large disk at 49.45". Jupiter will dominate the night sky through the end of 2023. Venus, of course will outshine Jupiter, but it will rise in the morning sky, while Jupiter is setting in the west. Jupiter hits its second stationary point on December 31 and will ring in 2024 in prograde motion.

Saturn iconThe last planet to be discussed is the ringed-wonder, gas giant SATURN. The rings are made of ice, dust, and rock orbiting the planet at various distances. This is somewhat like the ridges on a vinyl record album. There is one large gap near the center of them, dividing them into two pieces called "The Cassini Division." This gap can be seen with small telescopes; there are other gaps that can be seen with larger amateur instruments on a clear night. Saturn opens 2023 in the evening sky, on January 22nd, it joins Venus in a close conjunction, 0.7 deg. apart at 20 UT. This year Saturn moves out of Capricornus and into Aquarius around the time it is in conjunction with the Sun on February 16. Saturn reaches its first stationary point on June 18th, going retrograde thereafter. Saturn reaches opposition on August 27 shining at +0.4 mag. The rings will be tilted at 8.1 deg. and the disk will be 19". Saturn will arrive at its second stationary point on November 4, then resume its prograde motion through Aquarius. At the end of December, Saturn will set about 4 hours after the Sun, prominent in the early evening sky.

Eclipses for 2023

In 2023 there are two solar eclipses and two lunar eclipses. The first eclipse is occurs on on April 20 with what is called a "hybrid solar eclipse". In this type of eclipse, some portions of the eclipse are total while others are annular. On April 20, most of the eclipse path will be total, while locations at the beginning and end of the eclipse path will only receive an annular eclipse. More information has been provided by Mr. Fred Espenak at Hybrid Solar Eclipse of 2023 Apr 20 from EclipseWise.com. This eclipse is visible from Australia near Cape Range National Park, it crosses the Indian Ocean and goes over Barrow Island, from there it crosses the Timor Sea where maximum eclipse is achieved. It goes over Timor Island and Papua, and continues into the Pacific Ocean. The first lunar eclipse of the year occurs May 5 and is penumbral. The greatest eclipse is over the Indian Ocean and will not be visible from North America. In October, an annular solar eclipse will occur on October 14 when the Moon will cover 99% of the solar disk. The eclipse will be visible from the U.S.A. starting in Oregon through to Texas, plunging into the Gulf of Mexico, crossing over Yucatan, through Panama and into South America. The second lunar eclipse for 2023 will occur on October 28. It is a partial lunar eclipse where the Moon's shadow crosses over the southern limb of the Moon. This eclipse is visible from Europe, Africa and Asia.

Remember more details on these and other celestial observations are available at What's Up in the Night Sky? every month at Astra's Stargate!

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

This installment of "What's Up?" is ©2022 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.