EYES TO THE SKY: The romance of celestial conjunctions, planetary and lunar

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January 22, 2023 evening, looking west-southwest. A very young waxing crescent moon—a little over a day old—hugs the horizon below the conjunction of Venus and Saturn. The lovely glow on the darkened portion of the moon is earthshine. Chart via John Jardine Goss, published with permission EarthSky.org

January 22 and 23, 2023.

New moon, when the moon is dark, occurs today, January 21, followed tomorrow by a delicate waxing crescent moon close above the southwest horizon, in the path of the setting Sun. On each successive evening from today through Monday, January 23, at dusk—between about 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.—brilliant planet Venus and comparatively demure Saturn are seen in different positions in relation to each other. This evening, Saturn appears above Venus. Tomorrow, January 22, the ringed planet is so close to the right of Venus—known as conjunction—that it might require binoculars to find it. Alternatively, locate dimmer Saturn by extending three fingers at arm’s length to the right of Venus.

The brightest planet in the sky continues climbing higher each night, as Saturn sets earlier, lost in the sunset glare. The key to observing this dynamic sequence of events is to find a location with a clear view to the west-southwest horizon.

The waxing crescent moon shines below Jupiter after sunset on January 25, 2023, and above the planet on January 26. Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has been dominant in the evening sky for months and sets around 10 p.m. local time at the end of January. Chart via John Jardine Goss, published with permission, EarthSky.org.
Chart via John Jardine Goss, published with permission EarthSky.org.
January 30 and 31, 2023.

On Monday, January 30, Mars, the red planet, appears close to the waxing gibbous moon’s dark limb (left edge) in the southeast at dusk. At about 9 p.m., find the pair in the southwest. As the night progresses, the moon moves closer to Mars, covering it, in conjunction, as viewed from locations in the southern U.S. and extending farther south. At our latitude, by 10 p.m., the red planet may be so close to the moon’s edge that binoculars may be needed to see it. The pair sets in the west-northwest close to 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, January 31. Look again on Tuesday evening when Luna trails the red planet all night.

Red-orange star Aldebaran, the glowing eye of Taurus the Bull, appears below the red planet. Beneath the triangular head of the Bull, find the bright stars of Orion the Hunter and the brightest star in the sky, Sirius the Dog Star.

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