Saturn is near the sunset, near much-brighter Venus around January 22. Venus is the brightest planet and the next planet inward from our Earth in orbit around the sun. Saturn is much fainter, but golden in color. The best time for observing Venus and Saturn is right after darkness falls. They set soon after sunset. In January 2023, Saturn is sinking into the sunset. But Venus is rising out of it, climbing higher each night in the western twilight. After Saturn disappears, Venus will shine brilliantly in our evening twilight sky for many months. It’ll reach its greatest elongation – its greatest apparent distance from the sun – on June 4. And Venus will remain visible in the evening sky through August of 2023. Meanwhile, Saturn is best viewed in early January and will be poorly placed by the month’s end. Saturn will be in conjunction with the sun on February 16, 2023, afterwards emerging as a morning object in March. Jupiter is easy to spot, brighter than all the stars. It’s edging toward the sunset now, and will be gone – behind the sun from our earthly perspective – after 9:30 p.m. at January’s end. Mars is high in the evening sky and is visible until a few hours before dawn. It’s very red now and still brighter than most stars. Mars reached opposition on December 8, 2022, when Earth flew between Mars and the sun. It was brightest then – fading now – but still respectably bright (for the moment).
Visible planets (morning)
On January mornings, Mars is shining brightly in the west (opposite the sunrise horizon) a few hours before sunrise. Since Mars reached opposition on December 8, 2022, Mars is now the brightest it will be in 2023. Mercury reappeared in the morning sky around mid-January. Mercury will reach greatest elongation on January 30, 2023.
People often ask if our charts apply to them. Yes, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. Not as precisely, though, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Our charts are mostly set for the northern half of Earth. To see a precise view from your location, try the free online planetarium, Stellarium Online.
February 28 – March 2 evenings: Venus and Jupiter conjunction
Sky dome maps
The sky dome maps below come from master astronomy chart-maker Guy Ottewell. You’ll find charts like these for every month of 2023 in his Astronomical Calendar. Guy explains:
The sky dome map for each month shows what is above the horizon at a convenient (local) evening time for latitude 40 degrees north. If you travel north, stars at the south edge of the map disappear; at the north edge others spend more time above the horizon.
You can see the relation between the map and sky by holding the map over your face. The central point of the map is the overhead point, or zenith. Orient the map so the direction you are facing (east, west, north or south) is at the bottom.
Stars are shown down to magnitude 5.5, so you might require a dark sky to see some of the dimmer stars shown or the Milky Way. Also, the map only shows the more conspicuous constellations.
Planets are shown on the 16th of the month in the mid-evening sky, with symbols sized for brightness like the stars. All planets are visible to the unaided eye except Neptune. Furthermore, planets in the sky after midnight and in the twilight sky near sunset or sunrise will not appear on the sky dome maps.
The moon is shown (exaggerated 8 times in size) at 0 UTC on the days when it is at first quarter and full phases. This is 7 p.m EST on the previous day. It is also in its geocentric position, that is, without parallax; as seen from northern latitudes, it is slightly farther south.
Major meteor showers are indicated by bursts of lines pointing out from their radiant. But some are not shown, because their radiants are not in view at map time.
The ecliptic is drawn as a thick curve. It marks the plane in which the Earth revolves around the sun.
The celestial equator curves from the east point to the west point of each map. At declination 0, it is the only line of declination shown. Ticks along it are at the 24 hours of right ascension.
January and February heliocentric solar system planets
The sun-centered charts below come from Guy Ottewell. You’ll find charts like these for every month of 2023 here, in his Astronomical Calendar. Guy Ottewell explains:
In these views from ecliptic north, arrows (thinner when south of the ecliptic plane) are the paths of the four inner planets. Dots along the rest of the orbits are five days apart (and are black for the part of its course that a planet has trodden since the beginning of the year). Also, semicircles show the sunlit side of the new and full moon (vastly exaggerated in size and distance). Additionally, pairs of lines point outward to the more remote planets.
Phenomena such as perihelia (represented by ticks) and conjunctions (represented by lines between planets) are at dates that can be found in the Astronomical Calendar. Likewise, gray covers the half of the universe below the horizon around 10 p.m. at mid-month (as seen from the equator). The zodiacal constellations are in directions from the Earth at mid-month (not from the sun).
Bottom line: In January, the morning planets are Mercury and Mars. In the evening, four planets are visible – Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus – with Venus and Saturn near each other and near the sunset, and Jupiter and Mars higher in the sky as night begins.
Marcy Curran has enjoyed star gazing since she was a young girl going on family camping trips under the dark skies of Wyoming. She bought her first telescope in time to see Halley’s comet in 1985 on its way in to another close encounter with the sun. Her passion for astronomy eventually led her to being a co-founder of a local astronomical society. Marcy remains active in her astronomy club including being the editor of a monthly newsletter. She also contributes a monthly article to her local newspaper focusing on the stars, planets and objects currently visible in the nighttime sky. Marcy taught astronomy at her local community college for over 20 years. Marcy retired in December 2021 and is delighted to join Earthsky.org as an editor of night sky articles. Her hobbies - other than star gazing - include reading, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and photography. Marcy and her husband live in Wyoming.
“I can sometimes see the moon in the daytime” was a cosmic revelation that John Jardine Goss first discovered through personal observations when he was 6 years old. It shook his young concept of the universe and launched his interest in astronomy and stargazing, a fascination he still holds today. John is past president of the Astronomical League, the largest U.S. federation of astronomical societies, with over 20,000 members. He's earned the title of Master Observer and has authored the celestial observing guides Exploring the Starry Realm and Carpe Lunam. John also writes a monthly stargazing column, Roanoke Skies, for the Roanoke Times, and a bimonthly column, Skywatch, for Blue Ridge Country magazine. He has contributed to Sky and Telescope magazine, the IDA Nightscape, the Astronomical League’s Reflector magazine, and the RASC Observer’s Handbook.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
Kelly Kizer Whitt has been a science writer specializing in astronomy for more than two decades. She began her career at Astronomy Magazine, and she has made regular contributions to AstronomyToday and the Sierra Club, among other outlets. Her children’s picture book, Solar System Forecast, was published in 2012. She has also written a young adult dystopian novel titled A Different Sky. When she is not reading or writing about astronomy and staring up at the stars, she enjoys traveling to the national parks, creating crossword puzzles, running, tennis, and paddleboarding. Kelly lives with her family in Wisconsin.
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