2019, November 12: Venus in Southwest

November 12, 2019. Brilliant Venus shines from the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset
2019, November 12: Brilliant Venus shines from the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset.

Brilliant Venus shines in the southwestern sky about forty minutes after sunset.  Look for it on the next clear evening.  The planet is emerging from its solar conjunction earlier in the year.  Watch Venus approach and pass bright Jupiter in less than two weeks.  The Venus-Jupiter conjunction occurs on November 24, 2019.

Read more about Venus as an Evening Star at these links:

2019, November 11-20: Mercury Transit & Morning and Evening Planets

Morning Sky

Mars is low in the eastern sky about 1 hour before sunrise near the star Spica.  The planet is dimmer and redder than blue Spica.  During the next several mornings watch Mars move away from Spica.  The chart above shows the planet and the star about one hour before sunrise.  Both are low in the east-southeast.

Begin looking for the moon in the western sky during pre-sunrise hours on November 12.  On the morning of Nov 14, notice that the bright moon is above Aldebaran and the “V” of Taurus.

During these morning hours, watch the moon appear farther east and higher in the sky each morning.

Mercury begins a morning appearance.  On November 20, it is low in the east-southeast about one hour before sunrise.  Find a clear horizon to see it.

Evening Sky

Venus becomes easier to see if you look early enough.  The chart above shows the early evening sky, about 30 minutes after sunset on November 11.  Venus closes in on Jupiter for a November 24 conjunction.  This evening Venus and Jupiter are 13° apart.  Saturn is dimmer and farther to south.  It will become visible as the sky darkens further.

The bright moon is in the eastern sky during evening hours November 11 – 16.  Look for it in the east, beginning one hour after sunset on November 11.  Each night look one hour later.  It appears in the eastern sky each night, with a slightly different phase, and in front of other stars.

By November 20, brilliant Venus is 3.9° to the lower right of Jupiter.  Look shortly after sunset.  Find a clear horizon.

Daily Notes

The notes were originally published in the Observer.

  • November 11: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 10° up in the east-southeast, is 2.9° to the left of Spica. Mercury transits (crosses) the sun’s disk today. This is a slow-moving event, about 5.5 hours long as the sun rises higher into the sky. Mercury is moving east to west when it is between Earth and sun. So the planet appears to move from the lower left to the upper right on the sun’s face. Mercury is 10” across, only slightly smaller in apparent size than Venus current angular diameter and three times larger than Mars. The transit begins a few minutes before sunrise (6:37 a.m. CST). By 9:20 a.m. the planet is in the center of the sun’s disk when the sun is about 20° in altitude in the southeast. (At 9:22 a.m. Mercury is officially at inferior conjunction, moving toward the morning sky.) When the sun is in the south at 11:40 a.m. CST, Mercury is nearing the upper right limb of the sun. Shortly after noon (12:02 p.m. CST), the full disk of Mercury last appears in front of the sun. The solar disk is over 30° up in the southern sky. The planet completely leaves the sun’s face two minutes later. The next two transits of Mercury (November 13, 2032, and November 7, 2039) are not visible from Central Illinois. Both start after midnight and end before sunrise. The next transit of Mercury that is visible from the area occurs on May 7, 2049, when the transit begins at 6:03 a.m. CDT (if daylight saving time exists then) and ends at 12:44 p.m. CDT. One hour after sunset, the moon (14.8d, 100%) is about 11° up in the east. The Pleiades have about the same altitude as the bright moon; they are about 20° to the left of the lunar orb.
  • November 12: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 10° in altitude in the east-southeast, is 3.1° to the left of Spica. At the same time, the moon (15.3d, 100%) is 8° up in the west. If you can see dimmer stars, the Pleiades are nearly 15° above the moon. The moon is at its Full phase at 7:34 a.m. CST. One hour after sunset, the moon (15.8d, 100%) is 5° up in the east-northeast.
  • November 13: One hour before sunrise, Mars is over 11° up in the east-southeast, 3.4° to the lower left of Spica. The moon (16.3d, 99%) is farther west at this time, about 20° up in the west. It is about 10° to the lower right of Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8). Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is over 10°. Venus is 6° up in the southwest. Two hours after sunset, the moon (16.9d, 98%) is nearly 9° up in the east-northeast. It is at the top of the “V” of Taurus, which is on its side when it rises. The bright moon is between Aldebaran and Epsilon Tauri (ε Tau, m = 3.5), and closer to the dimmer star, about 0.7° to its lower right. Use a binocular to see the dim star with the very bright moon. The moon is 2.3° to the upper right of Aldebaran. Look for the moon in the west in the morning and notice how far it moved in its orbital pathway compared to the starry background.
  • November 14: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 11° up in the east-southeast, is 3.9° to the lower left of Spica. Through a binocular notice that Mars, 76 Virginis (76 Vir, m = 5.2), and Spica are nearly in a line. The dimmer star is nearly midway between Mars and Spica. The moon (17.3d, 96%) is in the west again this morning, about 30° up. It is 4.6° to the upper right of Aldebaran. In the evening, about 30 minutes after sunset, Venus is less than 10° to the lower right of Jupiter. At this hour Venus is nearly 7° up in the southwest. Three hours after sunset (about 7:30 p.m. CST), the moon (17.9d, 93%), about 12° up in the east-northeast, is 2.4° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau, m = 3.0), the Southern Horn of Taurus. Observe the star with a binocular. Compare the moon’s position in the morning. If you’re up late, the moon passes about 0.5° above the star at 12:30 a.m. CST tomorrow morning.
  • November 15: One hour before sunrise, the moon (18.3d, 91%), about 40° in altitude in the west, is 1.9° above Zeta Tauri. Mars, nearly 12° up in the east-southeast, is 4.3° to the lower left of Spica. Mercury (m = 2.6) is rapidly moving into the morning sky. For the next week it rises, on average, about 7 minutes earlier each morning. This morning it is 10° west of the sun. Rising about 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury is at the horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise. During the daytime, the sun is in the sky a few minutes longer than 10 hours. Darkness, the time between the end of evening twilight and the beginning of morning twilight, is 10.75 hours long. Thirty minutes after sunset, Venus (m = −3.9) is 7° up in the southwest, about 9° to the lower right of Jupiter. As the sky darkens further, Jupiter, nearly 9° up in the southwest, is about 20° to the lower right of Saturn. The Ringed Wonder is 20° up in the south-southwest. Four hours after sunset (about 8:30 p.m. CST), the moon (19.0d, 87%) is 0.7° to the lower left of Mu Geminorum (μ Gem, m = 2.8). As the moon leaves the early evening sky, this month’s deep sky focus is the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). With the gems of the autumn sky – in the names of M31, M15, h Persei, and χ Persei – nearing the meridian, it’s easy to overlook the Helix Nebula – a planetary nebula. It is the remnants of an exploded star that pushed off its outer layers when the stellar core generated too much heat. It is in the dimmer starfield of Aquarius, nearly in the middle of a triangle shaped by Fomalhaut, Delta Capricorni, and Delta Aquarii. The target is 1.1° to the right of Upsilon Aquarii (υ Aqr, m = 5.2). The nebula is large, about half the size of the moon. At this hour it is nearly 30° up in the south, but 10° east of the meridian. If all the light from the nebula were collected into a single stellar point, it would shine at 6th In his Celestial Handbook, Robert Burnham describes the nebula’s appearance. “The ‘Helix Nebula’ is usually regarded as the largest and nearest of the planetary nebulae. Despite its large size the nebula is faint and has a low surface brightness. Binoculars will show the object as a large circular hazy spot, and it is not a difficult object for a small telescope if a low power ocular is used. A rich-field instrument with a wide-angle eyepiece is the ideal telescope for objects of this type” (pp. 192-194). The helix shape appears in short exposure photographs. A dim, 13th magnitude star is at the center of the nebula. From my limiting magnitude estimates, you’ll need at least a 5-inch telescope to see it and some averted vision. Of course, the larger the light collector, the easier it is to locate the central star. In Deep Sky Wonders, Walter Scott Houston reports on observing conditions and instruments that various sky watchers used to view the Helix. He summarizes that small apertures and low powers are best to see the nebula. When larger ‘scopes were used, observers needed filters to reduce the sky glow. Additionally, many observers reported only seeing a uniformly round shape, not the helix shape with the dark center seen in photographs. Can you see the dark center of the nebula? What were the observing conditions and the telescope/eyepiece used?

At mid-month, when morning twilight begins (about 5 a.m. CST), Sirius, Orion’s Belt, Aldebaran, and the Pleiades are lined up in the western sky at nearly the same altitude. The bright gibbous moon is above them in Gemini. Procyon and Capella stand at nearly the same altitude as the moon on November 16th. Leo is farther east. Its great Sickle has not yet reached the meridian. The head of Hydra, the Snake, is at the meridian. Six 3rd and 4th magnitude stars outline the snake’s head. They are nearly 60° up about halfway between Procyon and Regulus. The snake wiggles eastward below Crater and Corvus. The tail goes below the horizon ending near Libra. Alphard, the “Solitary One,” is Hydra’s brightest star, over 20° to the lower right of Regulus and nearly 40° up in the south. It is a second magnitude star, the brightest in this part of the sky. Farther eastward along the ecliptic from Leo, Spica is low in the southeast, with Mars nearby. With Spica in the southeast, Arcturus is nearly 20° up in the east. The Big Dipper is high in the northeast with its curved handle guiding us to Arcturus. Cassiopeia is low in the north-northwest. Mars continues as a not-so-bright star, moving slowly in Virgo. Mercury pops into the morning sky as the second half of the month progresses, brightening as the apparition proceeds. Watch it move toward Mars, but there is no conjunction. Mercury has a nice appearance with Zubenelgenubi, but the star is low in the sky. Find a clear horizon and use a binocular to find the star. At the end of evening twilight (about 6 p.m. CST), the Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – stands high in the southwest. Jupiter is low in the southwest with Saturn, in eastern Sagittarius, to Jupiter’s upper left. The Great Square of Pegasus approaches the meridian, high in the south. The square’s pair of western stars point downward to Fomalhaut that is less than one-fourth of the way up in the southern sky. The great Winter Congregation is now making its way into the evening sky, with the Pleiades leading the way from low in the east-northeast. Aldebaran is lower near the horizon. Capella is in the northeast, at about the same altitude as the Pleiades. The “fishhook” of Perseus hangs above Capella with Cassiopeia higher and above Pegasus toward the meridian. The Big Dipper may be hiding behind a neighbor’s house or other nearby building as it is low in the north-northwest. Venus continues to move toward Jupiter with a conjunction occurring in over a week.

  • November 16: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 12° up in the east-southeast, is 4.9° to the lower left of Spica. The moon (19.3d, 85%) is in western Gemini, over 50° up in the west. It is nearly at the intersection of a large “+” symbol. The vertical leg is from Betelgeuse (α Ori, m = 0.4) to Castor (α Gem, m = 1.6); the horizontal leg is from Procyon (α CMi, m = 0.4) to Capella (α Aur, m = 0.1). Venus is 25° east of the sun. Thirty minutes after sunset, it is 7° in altitude in the southwest, nearly 8° to the lower right of Jupiter. Five hours after sunset (about 9:30 p.m. CST), the moon (20.0d, 78%) is nearly 7° to the lower right of Pollux.
  • November 17: One hour before sunrise, the bright moon (20.3d, 76%), 60° up in the southwest, is nearly 6° to the lower left of Pollux.   Mars, over 12° up in the east-southeast, is over 5° to the lower left of Spica. About 30 minutes after sunset, Venus is over 7° to the lower right of Jupiter. Venus is about 7° up in the southwest. At about 10:30 p.m. CST, (6 hours after sunset), the moon (21.0d, 68%), about 13° up in the east-northeast, is 12° below Pollux and 3.4° to the upper right of the Beehive Cluster (M44, NGC 2632). If you’ve not seen the cluster, use the bright moon as a guide to locate it. Return with low powers when the moon is out of this part of the sky. Look at the moon and the cluster in the morning when the moon is closer.
  • November 18: One hour before sunrise, the moon (21.3d, 66%) is 1° above the Beehive Cluster. Farther east, Mars marches eastward in Virgo to the lower left of Spica and the planet is nearly 13° up in the east-southeast. Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is nearly 6° with Venus to Jupiter’s lower right. Venus is about 8° up in the southwest.
  • November 19: An hour before sunrise (about 5:45 a.m. CST), the moon (22.3d, 55%), 65° up in the south, is about 9° to the upper right of Regulus (α Leo, m = 1.3). At the same time, Mars is nearly 13° up in the east-southeast. Mercury is entering the morning sky. It is higher and brighter each morning. During the next few mornings, use a binocular until you can see this speedy planet without optical assistance. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Mercury (m = 0.7) is nearly 6° up in the east-southeast, about 12° to the lower left of Mars. The moon reaches its Last Quarter phase at 3:11 p.m. CST. Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is about 5°. Venus is about 8° up in the southwest.
  • November 20: An hour before sunrise, the moon (23.3d, 43%), 60° up in the south-southeast, is nearly 7° to the lower left of Regulus. Mars is farther east at this hour, about 13° up in the east-southeast.   Fifteen minutes later, Mercury (m = 0.4) is nearly 11° to the lower left of Mars. Mercury is about 7° up in the east-southeast. Thirty minutes after sunset, the Venus – Jupiter gap is 3.9°. Venus is over 8° up in the southwest. Through a telescope, Venus is 11.2” across and 91% illuminated.

2019, November 1-10: Sky Events, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Moon

Before Sunrise

Look to the southeast, about one hour before sunrise for Mars.  It’s not bright but moving eastward among the stars of Virgo.  On November 1, it is to the lower right of the star Theta Virginis. Watch it move away from the star during the next few mornings. About 45 minutes before sunrise begin looking for Spica, the brightest star in VIrgo, low in the east-southeast. It is near its heliacal rising. What is the first day you can see it at this time interval without a binocular?

Around November 5, begin looking for Mars approaching the star Spica. By November 10 about one hour before sunrise, Mars, 10° up in the east-southeast, passes 2.8° to the upper left of Spica.

After Sunset

Brilliant Venus continues to slowly climb into the evening sky ahead of passing Jupiter later this month and Saturn in December.  Locate it in the southwest about 40 minutes after sunset.  It is low, so you’ll need a good view of the horizon.  On November 1, the crescent moon is near Saturn.  As the month progresses, the moon grows in phase and moves away from the bright evening planets.

The moon is at its First Quarter phase on November 4.

After the moon leaves the area of the planets it moves into dimmer star fields.

Share with us what you observe in the sky in our comments section.

Day-by-Day Semi-Technical Description of Events

(The daily notes were first published in the Observer, the Newsletter of the Twin Cities Amateur Astronomers.)

These notes describe events for each day:

  • November 1: In the morning, one hour before sunrise, Mars (m = 1.8), 7° up in the east-southeast, is 0.9° to the lower right of Theta Virginis (θ Vir, m = 4.4). Use a binocular to see this pair in the growing twilight. Today and for the next six days, Mars and Venus have the same solar elongations, 21°, November 1-3; and 22° November 4-7. Mars is west of the sun in the morning sky while Venus is east of the sun in the evening sky. About 45 minutes before sunrise, begin looking for Spica (α Vir, m = 1.0). During the daylight hours, the sun is in the sky for a few minutes less than 10.5 hours. There is more darkness, the time between the end of evening twilight and the start of morning twilight, than daylight. Thirty minutes after sunset, Venus (m = −3.8), 4° up in the west-southwest, is over 20° to the lower right of Jupiter (m = −1.9). Venus moves into Scorpius today, and the planet sets about an hour after sunset. Through a telescope, Venus is 11” across and 94% illuminated. While Scorpius is a large constellation, the section the ecliptic cuts through is short, only about 6.5° in length. Venus traverses the constellation in a week. Mercury (m = 0.7) is a challenge to locate. At this hour, it is near the horizon. It is the only naked eye planet not easily visible. One hour after sunset, Jupiter (m = −1.9) is 12° up in the southwest, 22° to the lower right of Saturn (m = 0.6), 22° up in the south-southwest. The crescent moon (4.8d, 26%), Saturn, and Nunki (σ Sgr, m = 2.8) – the star in the handle of the Teapot of Sagittarius – make a nice triangle. The separations: Moon – Saturn, 4.1°, moon to the lower right of Saturn; Moon – Nunki, 3°, moon to the upper right of the star. Saturn – Nunki, 4.5°, planet to the upper left of the star.
  • November 2: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 8° up in the east-southeast, is 1° to the lower right of Theta Virginis. In the evening sky, one hour after sunset, the crescent moon (5.8d, 36%) is over 8° to the left of Saturn. The moon is 23° up in the south-southwest.
  • November 3: Daylight Saving Time ends. Our clocks revert to standard time, but our time intervals in these daily notes remain the same when compared to sunrise or sunset. One hour after sunset, the moon (6.8d, 46%) is 26° up in the south. It is in western Capricornus, nearly 8° to the lower left of Beta Caprcorni (β Cap, m = 3.0). Use a binocular to see the star in the moon’s growing brightness as the moon moves through dimmer starfields.
  • November 4: The moon reaches its First Quarter phase at 4:23 a.m. CST. Thirty minutes after sunset, Venus, about 5° up in the southwest, is 1.5° to the lower left of Graffias (β Sco, m = 2.5). Use a binocular. Venus sets at Nautical Twilight, when the sun is 12° below the horizon. Tonight that’s 62 minutes after sunset. One hour after sunset, the moon (7.8d, 55%), 28° up in the south, is nearly 6° to the lower right of Delta Capricorni (δ Cap, m =2.8). While the moon approaches Pisces and it is not full, watch for the Harvest Moon effect. This occurs when the moon approaches coordinates 0 hour, Right Ascension and 0° declination (Vernal Equinox) and that point is low in the eastern sky. That point is to the lower left of a dozen 4th magnitude stars that make the western fish of Pisces. More specifically, it is about 3.5° to the lower left of Lambda Piscium (λ Psc, m = 4.6). At this time, the Vernal Equinox is about 30° up in the southeast. (The Vernal Equinox is the name of this point as well as the event when the sun’s apparent position is on these coordinates, signaling the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.) During the next several evenings the moon is farther east, but its altitude does not diminish much at the same time each evening. You don’t need a full moon to observe the effect that the moon approximately appears at the same altitude for a few evenings when the Vernal Equinox is low in the eastern sky and the moon is near that location.
  • November 5: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 8° up in the east-southeast, is 4.2° to the upper left of Spica (α Vir, m = 1.0). (Have you seen Spica without optical assistance about 45 minutes before sunrise?) As the sky begins to darken, 30 minutes after sunset, Venus is 5° up in the southwest, over 19° to the lower right of Jupiter. Thirty minutes later, Saturn is 22° up in the south-southwest, over 21° to the upper left of Jupiter, 11° up in the southwest. Jupiter and Saturn continue moving eastward against the starry background. Jupiter is in southern Ophiuchus, and Saturn is in eastern Sagittarius. Farther east, the moon (8.8d, 65%), 29° up in the south-southeast, is nearly 7° to the lower left of Delta Capricorni. The moon is in western Aquarius this evening.
  • November 6: One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 8° up in the east-southeast, is 3.8° to the upper left of Spica. One hour after sunset, the moon (9.8d, 73%) is in eastern Aquarius, about 30° up in the southeast. It is nearly 18° to the upper left of Fomalhaut (α PsA, m =1.2). This star is not near the ecliptic, but with the moon in front of dimmer starfields, Fomalhaut serves as a distant marker for the passing of bright solar system objects. In The Friendly Stars, Martin and Menzel describe Fomalhaut’s unique place. “There is a calm dignity to this star that lends much interest to it. It comes gently into view far down in the southeast in August, but with so little of a flourish that one scarcely notes its presence until along in early September. Then, when the days are growing shorter, some evening, just after dark, one sees it, a conspicuous, impressive object serenely trailing along over the small arc of its circle in the south with no companion near it, and, apparently, no need of one to add to its splendor” (p. 45). In his Celestial Handbook, Burnham notes, “To the dwellers at the latitude of New York, it is the southern-most of the visible 1st magnitude stars” (p. 1485).
  • November 7: The moon is at apogee at 2:36 a.m. CST, 251,691 miles away. One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 9° up in the east-southeast, is 3.4° to the upper left of Spica. As the sky darkens after sunset, look for Venus about 6° up in the southwest, 30 minutes after sunset. It is over 17° to the lower right of Jupiter. Half an hour later, Jupiter, 11° up in the southwest, is over 21° to the lower right of Saturn, over 21° up in the south-southwest. Farther east, the gibbous moon (10.8d, 81%), in eastern Aquarius, is nearly 27° up in the southeast.
  • November 8: One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 9° up in the east-southeast, is 3.1° to the upper left of Spica. Venus moves into Ophiuchus, 16° to the lower right of Jupiter. Thirty minutes after sunset, Venus is 6° up in the southwest. Thirty minutes later the moon (11.8d, 88%) is nearly 24° up in the east-southeast. It is in Cetus.
  • November 9: One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 10° up in the east-southeast, is 2.8° to the upper left of Spica. In the evening, thirty minutes after sunset, Venus, nearly 6° up in the southwest, is 3.9° to the upper right of Antares (m = 1.0). The Venus – Jupiter (m = −1.9) gap is 15°. One hour after sunset, the moon (12.8d, 94%) is 20° up in the east-southeast. It is in Cetus for a second evening.
  • November 10: One hour before sunrise, Mars, 10° up in the east-southeast, passes 2.8° to the upper left of Spica. Thirty minutes after sunset, Venus is 6° up in the southwest. Though it is low, through a telescope, the planet is nearly 11” across and 92% illuminated. One hour after sunset, the moon (13.8d, 97%) is about 16° up in the east. It is in Pisces. You’ll need a binocular to see the dim stars in the bright, moonlit sky.

2019, October 28: Welcome Back Venus!

Venus has been hiding in bright twilight since passing behind the sun. Southern hemisphere observers have been seeing the planet. Now this part of the solar system is easier to see for observers in the mid-northern latitudes.

To see it find a clear southwest horizon, about 30 minutes after sunset. The planet is low in the sky.  Each night it sets later.  Jupiter and Saturn are higher in the south-southwest.  Venus passes Jupiter next month and Saturn in December.

2019, October 28: Look for Variable Star Mira

All stars do not shine with equal intensity night after night.  Even our sun’s energy output may change slightly over time.  Some stars change brightness in a rhythmic pattern.  Over days or weeks, they brighten to peak intensity, then then dim considerably.  Various factors affect how they change.

One such variable star is Mira.  It is a pulsating star and brightens about every 330 days.  It is from a star that pulses in that time period.  At its dimmest, it is nearly invisible to the unaided eye.  At its brightest, it is a reasonably bright star, but not among the brightest.  The changing brightness easily goes unnoticed.

A note from Robert C. Victor provides recent observations of Mira:

Mira may now be near peak brightness. The “V” of Hyades and Aldebaran (head of Taurus) points directly to 2.5-magnitude Alpha Ceti. In same direction, 7 degrees farther, is 4.1-magnitude Delta Ceti. (Don’t be distracted by 3.5-magnitude Gamma Ceti nearby to Delta’s NNE.) A line from Alpha Ceti to Delta, 7 degrees long, extended 6 degrees beyond Delta, locates Mira. In coming weeks, as Mira begins to fade, Alpha, Gamma, and Delta Ceti will serve as useful comparison stars. For recent reports of Mira’s brightness, go to aavso.org and enter “omi cet” (without the quotation marks) into the empty box, and select recent observations or light curve. Make your own observation first!

You can read Rober Victor’s monthly columns in the Palm Springs, CA news paper.

Advertisements

2019-2020: Mars Until it Retrogrades

Mars (NASA Photo)

 

This chart shows the rising time differences for the rising times of the bright planets and stars near the ecliptic and sunrise for up to five hours before sunrise. The moon’s time differences are displayed in circles. The setting times of Jupiter and Saturn are graphed compared to sunrise. (Data from the U.S. Naval Observatory)

(This article was first published in the Northern Lights Fall Issue)

Mars begins an apparition that takes it to an opposition on October 12, 2020, 808 days following its 2018 perihelic opposition. The opposition, that will be highlighted in a future issue, brings Mars to its closest approach about a week before opposition. On October 6, the closest approach is 35.8 million miles, about 8% farther away than the preceding close passing. This corresponds to a smaller disk presented through a telescope.

The chart above, compiled with data from the U.S. Naval Observatory, shows the morning sky for 13 months beginning August 1, 2019, from Chicago, Illinois. Time intervals are noted on the chart and in the daily notes. Specific times are for Chicago, Illinois. To observe locally, refer to local sources for the times of sunrise and sunset; apply the time differentials in the notes.

The chart displays the time differences between the time of sunrise and the rising times for other planets, moon, and bright stars near the ecliptic, for up to five hours before sunrise. The moon’s rising time difference is displayed with circles. The setting time differences for Jupiter and Saturn, compared to sunrise, are displayed as well. The three phases of twilight are graphed compared to sunrise, and conjunctions are identified. The chart also notes several dates when the moon is near the bright planets.

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn have oppositions that occur within 91 days in 2020. The interest in the Mars opposition adds a highlight to the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that occurs late in the year. Such Jupiter – Saturn conjunctions occur about every 20 years.

The apparent sizes of Mars (in arcseconds) at its oppositions are graphed from 1930 to 2050. The larger apparent sizes occur when Mars is near perihelion and smallest when it is near aphelion. The time between oppositions for Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are displayed for some oppositions (in days). The Great Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn that occur about every 20 years are displayed with yellow stars, including the time (in days) between oppositions of the two planets.

Mars’ apparent size at opposition (24.3”) is 8% smaller than the 2018 perihelic opposition and 11% smaller than the 2003 close opposition. This was described above with the close approach that is farther away in 2020 than the most recent perihelic opposition. The chart above displays the apparent size of Mars at its oppositions from 1930 through 2050. The twenty-year intervals of the Jupiter – Saturn Great Conjunction are displayed with yellow stars along with the time interval between their oppositions. For several Mars’ oppositions, the time intervals are noted for the Bright Outer Planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

In this summary the events before opposition include monthly passages of the moon that highlight the beginning of a lunar occultation that is easier to view in the Western US, conjunctions with Jupiter, Pluto, Saturn, Ceres, and Neptune.

The apparition began with Mars’ conjunction with the sun on September 2, 2019. While dim, it began a slow crawl into the morning sky. By mid-month Mars was rising at Civil Twilight when the sun was 6° below the horizon.

At the beginning of October, the Red Planet (m = 1.8) is just above the eastern horizon, 45 minutes before sunrise, although it is a binocular object. The planet continues to rise earlier, Nautical Twilight (sun’s altitude = −12°) on October 6. Throughout October it rises earlier, rising at Astronomical Twilight on October 25. In the summary, each entry includes the planet’s magnitude, apparent size, distance from Earth in Astronomical Units, and difference between the planet’s rising time and sunrise, stated in minutes. This time changes in the summary on July 1, 2020, when the difference noted is between sunset and the rising of Mars. Here’s what to look for:

  • October 26: (1.8, 3.7”, 2.56 AU, 94m) Forty-five minutes before sunrise, the waning crescent moon (27.6 days old, 4% illuminated) is 5.6° to the upper left of Mars, about 8° up in the east-southeast. At this time, Mars is 4.5° below Gamma Virginis (γ Vir, m 3.4). Use a binocular.
  • November 10: (1.8, 3.8”, 2.50 AU, 122m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, about 9° up in the east-southeast, passes 2.8° to the upper left of Spica (α Vir, m = 1.0).
  • November 24: (1.7, 3.9”, 2.42 AU, 146m) One hour before sunrise, the waning crescent moon (27.3d, 6%) is 3.7° to the left of Mars, 15° up in the east-southeast. At the same time Mars is 9.5° to the upper right of Mercury (m = −0.4). Tomorrow morning, at the closest approach, the planets have about the same separation, although the gap is neither a conjunction nor a quasi-conjunction.
  • November 25: (1.7, 3.9”, 2.42 AU, 148m) One hour before sunrise, Mars is 14° up in the southeast, 9.5° to the upper right of bright Mercury (m = −0.3), 7° in altitude. The thin crescent moon (28.3d, 2%) is 5.5° to the lower left of Mercury. You’ll need a clear horizon to see the moon. It’s only 3° in altitude.
  • November 30: (1.7, 3.9”, 2.39 AU, 156m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 15° in altitude in the southeast, is 0.2° to the lower left of Lambda Virginis (λ Vir, m = 2.8).

December 2019

As the year closes, Mars continues its eastward march. Early in the month, bright Mercury is to the lower left of Mars. Still over 2 Astronomical Units from Earth, Mars moves through Libra and between the pincers of the Scorpion. The planet rises about 3 hours before sunrise, but it’s low altitude and southerly location may send you on a chase to find a clear horizon.

  • December 1: (1.7, 3.9”, 2.38 AU, 157m) Mars moves into Libra, 7.3° to the upper right of Zubenelgenubi (α Lib, m = 2.8). Sixty minutes before sunrise, Mars is about 15° up in the southeast.
  • December 12: (1.7, 4.0”, 2.32 AU, 174m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 17° up in the southeast, passes 0.2° to the upper left of Zubenelgenubi.
  • December 18: (1.6, 4.1”, 2.28 AU, 181m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 18° up in the southeast, is 0.7° to the lower right of Nu Librae (ν Lib, m =5.2). Use a binocular to see the pair.
  • December 21: (1.6, 4.2”, 2.25 AU, 184m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 18° up in the southeast, is 2.3° to the upper left of Iota Librae (ι Lib, m = 4.5).
  • December 22: (1.6, 4.2”, 2.25 AU, 185m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 18° in altitude in the southeast, is over 8° to the lower left of the waning crescent moon (25.7d, 15%). The moon is above a line that connects Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali (β Lib, m = 2.6). The lunar crescent is 3.5° to the upper left of Zubenelgenubi.
  • December 23: (1.6, 4.2”, 2.24 AU, 191m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 18° up in the southeast, is 6° to the upper right of the crescent moon (26.8d, 8%).

January 2020

As the New Year breaks, Mars is an unimpressive “star” low in the southeast as sunrise approaches, rising about 4 a.m. CST. It continues to move through Libra and Scorpius and into southern Ophiuchus. At mid-month it passes north of its Rival, Antares.

Notice on the rising chart above that the time differential between the rising of Mars and sunrise decreases from late January through early-April. The declination of the sun is greater than Mars’ position.  The sun is moving toward the vernal equinox while Mars is approaching the ecliptic’s lowest point. The basic principle is that the farther north an object the earlier it rises. During January and February, the time interval between sunrise and Mars rising decreases nearly 20 minutes. This is reflected in the dip the Mars rising line takes on the chart. The differential increases after Mars moves farther north in declination.

  • January 7, 2020: (1.5, 4.4”, 2.14 AU, 196m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 19° up in the southeast, is 1° to the right of Graffias (β Sco, m = 2.5). Mars enters Scorpius today and moves through in only 8 days.
  • January 8: (1.5, 4.4”, 2.13 AU, 197m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 18° up in the southeast, passes 0.7° below Graffias.
  • January 9: (1.5, 4.4”, 2.12 AU, 197m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 18° up in the southeast, is still near Graffias, passing 0.1° from Omega1 Scorpii (ω1 Sco, m = 3.9). Use a binocular to see the planet with the dimmer starfield.
  • January 15: (1.5, 4.5”, 2.08 AU, 198m) Mars moves into Ophiuchus. It crosses the constellation in 27 days. One hour before sunrise, Mars is over 18° in altitude in the southeast, 1.8° to the upper right of Omega Ophiuchi (ω Oph, m = 4.4).
  • January 18: (1.5, 4.6”, 2.05 AU, 199m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 18° up in the southeast, is 4.7° to the upper left of Antares (α Sco, m = 1.0). At the same time, Mars is 0.4° below Omega Ophiuchi. View the star and Mars in the growing twilight with a binocular.
  • January 20: (1.4, 4.6”, 2.04 AU, 198m) One hour before sunrise, Mars is 18° up in the southeast, 3.9° to the lower left of the crescent moon (25.2d, 19%).
  • January 21: (1.4, 4.6”, 2.03 AU, 199m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 18° up in the southeast, is over 9° to the upper right of the moon (26.2d, 11%).
  • January 24: (1.4, 4.7”, 2.00 AU, 198m) Mars is 2.0 Astronomical Units from Earth. One hour before sunrise, the Red Planet is 18° up in the southeast, 6.3° to the upper left of Antares.

February 2020

During February, Mars moves from Ophiuchus into Sagittarius, through the rich galactic background of our galaxy’s nucleus region. Use a binocular to track the planet’s motion. After mid-month, the moon occults Mars in a bright sky as sunrise approaches. Mars heads toward conjunctions with Jupiter, Pluto, and Saturn next month. Watch the gaps close during February as the Bright Outer Planets appear above the southeast horizon before sunrise.

  • February 1: (1.4, 4.8”, 1.94 AU, 197m) Mars moves south of the ecliptic. One hour before sunrise, find it about 18° up in the southeast.
  • February 2: (1.3, 4.8”, 1.93 AU, 196m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, about 18° up in the southeast, is 1° above Omicron Ophiuchi (ο Oph, m = 5.1).
  • February 4: (1.3, 4.9”, 1.92 AU, 195m) One hour before sunrise, Mars is over 17° in altitude in the southeast. It is 1.8° to the upper left of Theta Ophiuchi (θ Oph, m = 3.2).
  • February 5: (1.3, 4.9”, 1.91 AU, 194m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 17° up in the southeast, is 0.9° to the upper left of 44 Ophiuchi (44 Oph, m = 4.2).
  • February 6: (1.3, 4.9”, 1.90 AU, 194m) Mars rises at its most southerly rising azimuth, 122°, until March 5, 2020.
  • February 7: (1.3, 5.0”, 1.90 AU, 194m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, about 17° in altitude in the southeast, is 0.6° to the upper left of 51 Ophiuchi (51 Oph, m = 4.8).
  • February 9: (1.3, 5.0”, 1.88 AU, 193m) Mars is about 20° to the upper left of Jupiter (m = −1.9), 7° up in the southeast, one hour before sunrise.
  • February 11: (1.3, 5.0”, 1.86 AU, 192m) Mars moves into Sagittarius. It begins to approach the bright nebulae and rich star field above the Teapot of Sagittarius. Use low powers to view the planet and the starry background. As the moon approaches the region during the next week, watch Mars move between the Lagoon Nebula (M8, NGC 6523) and the Trifid Nebula (M20, NGC 6514). Mars crosses the constellation in 50 days.
  • February 17: (1.2, 5.2”, 1.81 AU, 189m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 17° up in the southeast, is about 13° to the lower left of the moon (23.6d, 33%).
  • February 18: (1.2, 5.2”, 1.81 AU, 189m) One hour before sunrise, the crescent moon (24.6d, 24%), about 17° up in the southeast, is 0.4° to the right of Mars. As sunrise approaches, the moon inches toward the planet. If you can track Mars into a brighter sky, the moon occults it a few minutes after 6 a.m. CST, about 35 minutes before sunrise in Chicago. Observers in the Western U.S. see the moon occult Mars in a darker sky.
  • February 26: (1.1, 5.4”,1.74 AU, 185m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast, passes 1.8° to the upper left of Kaus Borealis (λ Sgr, m =2.8), the star at the top of the lid of the Teapot of Sagittarius.
March 20: Mars passes 0.6° to the lower right of Jupiter. Locate the planets in the southeast about an hour before sunrise.

March 2020

Mars marches eastward in Sagittarius, above the Teapot’s handle, and continues to rise earlier. By month’s end, the planet rises before 4 a.m. CDT, as the clock advances one hour on March 8. The gaps to Jupiter, Pluto, and Saturn close as Mars passes the planetary trio this month.

  • March 1: (1.1, 5.5”, 1.70 AU, 183m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast, is 10° to the upper right of Jupiter (m = −2.0).
  • March 5: (1.1, 5.6”, 1.67 AU, 180m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast, passes 2.9° to the upper left of Nunki (σ Sgr, m = 2.0) and appears nearly 8° to the upper right of Jupiter.
  • March 11: (1.0, 5.8”, 1.62 AU, 178m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast, is 4.9° to the upper right of Jupiter. Gaps until the Jupiter – Mars conjunction: Mar 12, 4.3°; Mar 13, 3.7°; Mar 14, 3.3°; Mar 15, 2.7°; Mar 16, 2.2°; Mar 17, 1.7°, Mars to the right of Jupiter; Mar 18, 1.2°; Mar 19, 0.9°.
  • March 15: (1.0, 5.9”, 1.59 AU, 177m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast, is 10° to the upper right of Saturn (m = 0.7).
  • March 18: (0.9, 6.0”, 1.56 AU, 174m) The crescent moon (24.1d, 29%) joins the scene with Jupiter and Mars. The trio makes a small triangle, the moon is 2.4° to the lower right of Jupiter and 2.2° to the lower left of Mars.

 

  • March 20: (0.9, 6.0”, 1.55 AU, 174m) Jupiter – Mars conjunction! Mars is 0.6° to the lower right of Jupiter. The gaps after the conjunction as Mars moves away from Jupiter: Mar 21, 0.9°; Mar 22, 1.3°; Mar 23, 1.7°; Mar 24, 2.3°; Mar 25, 2.7°; Mar 26, 3.4°; Mar 27, 3.9°; Mar 28, 4.5°; Mar 29, 5.0°. The next Jupiter – Mars conjunction is May 29, 2022 in the morning sky. At that conjunction the sky has 4 bright planets – Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn – in the southeastern sky. The moon is nearby, a few days before the closest Jupiter – Mars passage. This morning the Mars – Saturn gap is 7.1°.
  • March 23: (0.9, 6.1”, 1.52 AU, 174m) Mars passes 0.1° to the lower left of Pluto (m = 14.3). At the beginning of morning twilight, Mars is about 12° up in the southeast. This is clearly a stretch to see this conjunction. A big scope and ideal sky conditions are needed to locate the distant world near Mars.
  • March 26: (0.8, 6.2”, 1.50 AU, 173m) Mars is nearly equidistant from the two bright giant planets, although Mars is below a line that connects Jupiter and Saturn. One hour before sunrise, Mars, 15° up in the southeast, is 3.3° to the lower left of Jupiter and 3.2° to the upper right of Saturn. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.4°.
March 31: Mars passes 0.9° to the lower right of Saturn. The planets are in the southeast about an hour before sunrise.
  • March 31: (0.8, 6.4”, 1.46 AU, 172m) Mars – Saturn conjunction! One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast is 0.9° to the lower right of Saturn. The Mars – Saturn gap grows after the conjunction: Apr 1, 1°; Apr 2, 1.4°; Apr 3, 1.9°; Apr 4, 2.5°; Apr 5, 3.1°; Apr 6, 3.7°; Apr 7, 4.3°; Apr 8, 5.0°. This morning gap to Jupiter is 6.1°. Mars moves into Capricornus.

April 2020

Mars is now moving away from Jupiter and Saturn and through the starfield of Capricornus. Continue to track it with low powers as it passes dimmer stars. It has a close appearance with the moon at mid-month. By month’s end the planet rises before 3 a.m. CDT.

  • April 5: (0.7, 6.6”, 1.42 AU, 172m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 16° up in the southeast, is 5.1° to the lower right of Beta Capricorni (m = 3.0). Look for Saturn and Jupiter nearby.
  • April 7: (0.7, 6.7”, 1.41 AU, 172m). One hour before sunrise, Mars is 10° to the lower left of Jupiter and over 4° to the lower left of Saturn.
  • April 15: (0.6, 7.0”, 1.34 AU, 173m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, 16° up in the southeast, is nearly 10° to the left of the thick crescent moon (22.0d, 45%). At the same time, the moon is 3.3° below Saturn. This morning Jupiter is 5.5° to the upper right of Saturn and nearly 15° to the upper right of Mars.
  • April 16: (0.6, 7.0”, 1.34 AU, 173m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 16° up in the southeast, is 3.8° to the upper right of the crescent moon (23.0d, 36%). Mars is 10° to the lower left of Saturn.
  • April 20: (0.5, 7.2”, 1.30 AU, 174m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, nearly 17° up in the southeast, is 0.8° below Theta Capricorni (θ Cap, m = 4.0). In the brightening sky, use a binocular to see the star with Mars.
  • April 23: (0.5, 7.3”, 1.28 AU, 175m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, about 17° up in the southeast, is nearly 15° to the lower left of Saturn. Meanwhile, the Jupiter – Saturn gap is 5.1°.
  • April 25: (0.5, 7.4”, 1.27 AU, 177m) One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 17° up in the southeast, is 0.2° to the lower right of Iota Cap (ι Cap, m = 4.2). Optical assistance helps see Mars’ close proximity to the star.

May 2020

Mars moves from Capricornus into the dim star field of Aquarius early in the month, brightening about 45% as it nears 1.0 Astronomical Unit away. The planet is about 40 times brighter than the stars it passes during the month. Continue to use low power to track the planet on its eastward march. The moon passes at mid-month, although about a degree farther away than in April. The planet passes Ceres late in the month.  As April closes, Mars rises before 2 a.m.

  • May 1: (0.4, 7.7”, 1.22 AU, 180m) Ninety minutes before sunrise, Mars, 14° up in the southeast, 0.9° above Gamma Capricorni (γ Cap, m = 3.6).
  • May 4: (0.4, 7.8”, 1.20 AU, 183m) Mars is 1.0° to the upper left of Delta Capricorni (δ Cap, m = 2.8), 90 minutes before sunrise. The planet is over 14° up in the southeast.
  • May 9: (0.3, 8.0”, 1.16 AU, 187m) Mars moves into Aquarius. Ninety minutes before sunrise, locate it nearly 16° in altitude in the southeast. Mars crosses the constellation in 47 days.
  • May 11: (0.3, 8.1”, 1.14 AU, 188m) About 90 minutes before sunrise, Mars, about 16° up in the southeast, passes 0.3° to the upper right of Iota Aquarii. (ι Aqr, m = 4.2).
  • May 14: (0.2, 8.3”, 1.13 AU, 192m) About 90 minutes before sunrise, Mars, nearly 17° up in the southeast, is over 9° to the upper left of the slightly gibbous moon (21.3d, 52%).
  • May 15: (0.2, 8.3”, 1.12 AU, 193m) Mars is nearly 17° up in the southeast, ninety minutes before sunrise, 4.5° to the upper right of the moon (22.3d, 42%).
  • May 18: (0.2, 8.5”, 1.11 AU, 196m) One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is 27° up in the south. Saturn is 4.7° to the left of Jupiter. This is a quasi-conjunction. Saturn began retrograding May 11 and Jupiter May 18. This occurs over 7 months before the two planets’ Great Conjunction. At this time, Mars, 36° to the left of Jupiter, is 21° up in the southeast.
  • May 19: (0.2, 8.6”, 1.11 AU, 198m) Mars passes nearly 20° north of Fomalhaut (α PsA, m = 1.2). While not near the ecliptic, Fomalhaut is a bright beacon among the dimmer stars of this region. And its place helps note the passage of bright solar system objects. One hour before sunrise, Mars is 22° up in the southeast while the star is about 4° in altitude in the southeast.
  • May 21: (0.1, 8.7”, 1.08 AU, 201m) About 90 minutes before sunrise, Mars, over 18° up in the southeast, passes 0.8° to the lower right of Sigma Aquarii (σ Aqr, m =4.8).
  • May 24: (0.1, 8.8”, 1.06 AU, 205m) Ninety minutes before sunrise, Mars, over 19° up in the southeast, is 7° to the upper left of Ceres (1Ceres, m = 8.0), 1.2° to the lower right of Delta Aquarii (δ Aqr, m = 3.2).
  • May 25: (0.1, 8.9”, 1.05 AU, 207m) About 90 minutes before sunrise, Mars, over 19° up in the southeast, passes 3.5° above Tau Aquarii (τ Aqr, m = 4.0).
  • May 30: (0.0, 9.2”, 1.02 AU, 215m) Mars passes 1.9° to the lower right of Lambda Aquarii (λ Aqr, m = 3.7). Mars is over 20° up in the southeast, ninety minutes before sunrise.

June 2020

During the month, Earth moves within 1 Astronomical Unit of Mars, while the Red Planet’s brightness grows nearly 0.5 magnitude. The planet passes Neptune late in the month. As the month closes, Mars rises at about 12:30 p.m. CDT.

  • June 1: (0.0, 9.3”, 1.00 AU, 218m) Mars is 1 Astronomical Unit from Earth. Ninety minutes before sunrise the planet is 21° up in the southeast.
  • June 5: (−0.1, 9.6”, 0.98 AU, 225m) Mars is 90° west of the sun. Ninety minutes before sunrise, it is nearly 21° up in the southeast.
  • June 8: (−0.1, 9.8”, 0.96 AU, 232m) Ninety minutes before sunrise Mars is nearly 24° up in the southeast. With a binocular observe that it is 1.5° to the lower right of Phi Aquarii (φ Aqr, m = 4.2) and 0.3° to the upper left of Chi Aquarii (χ Aqr, m = 4.9).
  • June 13: (−0.2, 10.1”, 0.92 AU, 243m) Ninety minutes before sunrise, Mars, 26° up in the southeast, is 1.6° to the lower right of Neptune (m = 7.9) and 4.7° to the upper right of the moon (21.6d, 49%). Use higher powers to see Neptune’s 2.3”-diameter disk.
  • June 25: (−0.4, 11.0”, 0.85 AU, 276m) Mars moves into Pisces, below the six, fourth magnitude stars that make the western fish. Mars makes a partial passage through Pisces in 13 days, then it moves into Cetus. It is 0.2° to the upper right of 27 Piscium (27 Psc, m = 4.8). Ninety minutes before sunrise, Mars is 31° up in the southeast.

July 2020

The time differential in the notes changes to rising time after sunset. (On July 8, Mars rises in the east 221 minutes after sunset.) Earth begins to close in on Mars. Now brighter than all the stars, except Sirius from the Northern Hemisphere, Mars gleams from the southeast before morning twilight begins. It moves into Cetus for a short duration, still among dimmer stars. Continue to track it with a binocular, although larger scopes should start to bring in details visually. The morning sky has a planet parade of all the planets in the solar system. In addition to ruddy Mars, brilliant Venus joins, Jupiter and Saturn, although brilliant Venus shines from the eastern sky. Jupiter and Saturn pass opposition six days apart, then Mercury pops into the sky. This results in 5 naked eye planets in the sky at once. Additionally, the telescopic planets are there as well: Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. (Historically, Pluto is a planet. Without too much description, we have many things in astronomy that are misnamed – like planetary nebula.)

  • July 8: (−0.6, 12.2”, 0.77 AU, 221m) Mars moves into Cetus. Mars moves across this corner of Cetus in 19 days, then back into Pisces. The constellations are not uniform in shape and size. The ecliptic is less than 1° from a corner of Cetus near coordinates Right Ascension, 0 hours, 26 minutes; Declination, 2°. Cetus also bounds Aries on the south, but Mars moves north of the ecliptic after opposition and it does not return to this constellation this apparition. Ninety minutes before sunrise (about 4 a.m. CDT in Chicago), it is 37° up in the southeast.
  • July 11: (−0.7, 12.4”, 0.75 AU, 215m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, nearly 36° up in the southeast, is over 6° to the upper left of the moon (20.1d, 65%).
  • July 12: (−0.7, 12.5”, 0.74 AU, 212m) Mars rises before midnight CDT. Two hours before sunrise, Mars, 36° up in the southeast, is nearly 6° to the upper right of the moon (21.1d, 56%). At this time, brilliant Venus is nearly 6° up in the east-northeast, 0.9° to the upper left of Aldebaran (m = 0.8).
  • July 14: (−0.8, 12.7”, 0.74 AU, 209m) Jupiter (m = −2.8) is at opposition. One hour after sunset, Jupiter is 10° up in the southeast, nearly 7° to the upper right of Saturn. Later this night, at 1 a.m. CDT, July 15, Mars is 11° up in the east, 77° to the east of Jupiter, now 26° up in the south.
  • July 18: (−0.8, 13.1”, 0.71 AU, 200m) Mars is 105° west of the sun. Ninety minutes before sunrise, it is 42° up in the southeast.
  • July 19: (−0.8, 13.2”, 0.71 AU, 199m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, nearly 40° up in the southeast, passes 2.2° to the upper left of 20 Ceti (20 Cet, m = 4.8). This morning and for the next week, look for the five naked eye planets simultaneously. Mercury rises higher in the eastern sky and brightens as Jupiter appears lower in the southwestern sky. This morning the thin crescent moon is part of the scene. Look for them 45 minutes before sunrise. The moon (28.1d, 2%) is about 5° up in the east-northeast. Dim Mercury (m = 0.8) is about 5° to the right of the moon at about the same altitude, only slightly higher in the sky. It’s a binocular object. Brilliant Venus (m = −4.4) is over 20° up in the east, 4.5° to the lower left of Aldebaran. By this time, Mars is over 45° up in the south-southeast. Saturn (m = 0.1) is 9° up in the southwest, 7° to the upper left of Jupiter that is just above the southwestern horizon. The five naked eye planets are in the sky simultaneously with the bonus of a thin crescent moon!
  • July 20: (−0.9, 13.4”, 0.70 AU, 197m) Saturn is at opposition. One hour after sunset, Saturn is 10° up in the southeast, about 7° to the lower left of Jupiter. As midnight approaches, Mars is about 3° up in the east, about 74° east of Saturn, now 26° up in the south-southeast.
  • July 24: (−0.9, 13.8”, 0.68 AU, 189m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, nearly 42° up in the southeast, is 5.6° to the lower right of Delta Piscium (δ Psc, m = 4.4).
  • July 27: (−1.0, 14.1”, 0.66 AU, 184m) Mars moves back into Pisces. Two hours before sunrise, the planet is over 43° up in the southeast. Brilliant Venus is over 60° to the lower left of Mars.
  • July 31: (−1.1, 14.6”, 0.64 AU, 178m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, 45° up in the southeast is 4.9° below Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc, m = 4.2).

August 2020

Mars, now back in the constellation Pisces, continues its eastward march, as its brightness grows. While Mars brightens, Venus dominates the morning sky. Mars passes perihelion on August 2.

  • August 2: (−1.1, 14.8”, 0.63 AU, 175m) Mars is at perihelion, 1.38 Astronomical Units from the sun. It is 45° from its position when it is at opposition, measured along its orbit. Mars rises before 10 p.m. CDT. As midnight approaches the plant is about 10° in altitude in the east.
  • August 9: (−1.3, 15.7”, 0.60 AU, 164m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, nearly 50° up in the southeast, is 0.9° to the upper right of the moon (19.6d, 72%).
  • August 14: (−1.4, 16.4”, 0.58 AU, 155m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, 52° up in the south-southeast, is 1.0° below Mu Piscium (μ Psc, m = 4.8).
  • August 23: (−1.6, 17.7”, 0.53 AU, 139m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, over 50° up in the south, is 0.5° to the upper left of Nu Piscium (ν Psc, m = 4.4).

September 2020

Earth closes to within 0.5 Astronomical unit of Mars. The planet is now appearing above the eastern horizon before midnight. Mars slows and stops its eastward motion against the starry background.

  • September 2: (−1.8, 19.2”, 0.49 AU, 120m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, 55° up in the south, is 3.6° to the upper right of Xi Piscium (ξ Psc, m = 4.6). In the evening, three hours after sunset (about 10:30 p.m. CDT in Chicago), Mars is 10° up in the east.
  • September 4: (−1.9, 19.5”, 0.48 AU, 117m) Mars is 135° west of the sun. Three hours after sunset, Mars is nearly 11° up in the east. The gibbous moon (17.0d, 92%) is over 12° to the upper right of the planet.
  • September 5: (−1.9, 19.6”, 0.48 AU, 115m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, 54° up in the south-southwest, is 10° to the upper left of the moon (17.3d, 91%). In the evening, 3 hours after sunset, Mars – 11° up in the east – is 0.8° to the upper left of the moon (18.0d, 86%).
  • September 6: (−1.9, 19.8”, 0.47 AU, 112m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars, nearly 55° up in the south-southwest, is 2° to the lower right of the moon (18.3d, 85%). In the evening, three hours after sunset, Mars – 11° up in the east is nearly 12° to the upper right of the moon (19.0d, 79%).
  • September 8: (−2.0, 20.1”, 0.47 AU, 108m) Two hours before sunrise, Mars is 53° up in the south-southwest. This evening the planet rises before 9 p.m. CDT. Three hours after sunset, Mars is over 12° up in the east.
  • September 11: (−2.1, 20.4”, 0.46 AU, 101m) Mars eastward motion ends and it begins to retrograde. It is 141° west of the sun. Two hours before sunrise, the planet is 52° up in the south-southwest. In the evening, three hours after sunset, Mars is nearly 14° up in the east.

Until retrograde began, Mars passed four planets and a minor planet, and had an occultation with the moon. Earth is now closing in toward its closest approach and Mars’ opposition, about a month away. While not as close as the last perihelic opposition, the next opposition occurs farther north and promises great views. In a later issue, we pick up the story of Mars at opposition.

 

2019, October 29: Venus and the Moon

Venus passed its superior conjunction on August 14, 2019, and slowly moved to the evening part of the sky. For several weeks, the visibility of Venus suffered from our poor view of the solar system near the sun after sunset for observers at mid-northern latitudes. Now in October, Venus starts to become visible. 

Venus climbs into bright evening twilight in the southwestern sky and is soon visible in darker skies.  It is headed toward a conjunction with Jupiter in late November. 

On October 27, Venus is 20° from the sun and sets in the southwest and about an hour after sunset.

The moon makes its first appearance with Venus on October 29, as illustrated above.  

Here’s what to look for (Find a clear southwest horizon and use a binocular to initially help you locate Venus and the moon.): Thirty minutes after sunset, the moon appears to the upper left of Venus, only 4° up in the southwest with bright Jupiter to the upper left of the pair. The moon is 1.8 days old, past its New phase, and 4.4% illuminated.

Let us know what you see in the comments below.  Click the link and subscribe to this web page.  Fall 2019 is an exciting time to observe Venus and the moon pass the bright evening planets.