Jupiter and Saturn shine brightly in the southern skies before midnight.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Bright Jupiter and Saturn shine from the southern skies before midnight. They appear low in the southeast as the sky darkens after sunset.
The brightest planets appear as overly bright stars in our sky. They rise in the east and set in the west each day along with the other stars, sun, and moon.
As the planets revolve around the sun, they move slightly eastward as compared to the starry background.
There are times when our faster moving planet approaches, passes, and moves away from the planets outside Earth’s orbit. These outer planets seem to move westward compared to the background of stars. This retrograde motion is an illusion.
The planets’ retrograde motions are displayed before and after the outer planets are at opposition, when Earth is between the sun and the planet. At this time, the planets are near their closest points to Earth. The sun and planets are in opposite directions in the sky. The distant worlds shine brightly in our sky all night.
Jupiter was at opposition on July 13 and Saturn followed a week later. Mars is approaching its opposition on October 13, 2020. It is closest to Earth a week earlier.
Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding. Jupiter’s retrograde ends September 12 and Saturn, September 28. Mars begins to retrograde September 9. It is the bright star high in the south before sunrise. (Venus is “that brilliant star in the east” as the morning twilight brightens.)
Watch Jupiter and Saturn continue to retrograde. On the image above, Jupiter is 2.4° to the lower left of Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr) and 2.2° to the lower right of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr). For the next few weeks, watch Jupiter move closer to π Sgr and farther from 50 Sgr.
Saturn is 2.0° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). Watch it move beneath the star before its retrograde ends at the end of September.
Over a week after its first appearance (heliacal rising) in the morning sky, Sirius, the night’s brightest star, shines from the east-southeast nearly 45 minutes before sunrise.
Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.
May 24, 2021: Morning planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise. In the evening sky, brilliant Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Mars line up along the solar system’s plane. The bright moon is in the southeast near Zubenelgenubi, “the southern claw.”
May 23, 2021: Five bright planets parade across the sky. Jupiter and Saturn are visible before sunrise in the southeastern sky. The star Fomalhaut is becoming visible below bright Jupiter and near the horizon. After sundown, Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Mars are in the western sky. The bright moon is in the southeastern sky during the nighttime hours.
May 22, 2021: Five planets parade across the sky. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise. Evening Star Venus, Mercury and Mars are in the western sky after sunset. A bright moon is in the southeastern sky.
May 21, 2021: Three bright planets are dancing in the western sky after sundown. Evening Star Venus is entering the sky for a months-long residency after its solar conjunction two months ago. Mercury is heading for a conjunction with Venus after its best evening appearance of the year. Mars continues its eastward march in Gemini, but time is running out on its appearance as it approaches brighter evening twilight and a conjunction with Venus.
May 21, 2021: At the weather warms, daylight and twilight lengthen to diminish nighttime hours. As the summer solstice approaches far northern latitudes do not have periods of darkness. From the most northern latitudes, the sun does not set – the Land of the Midnight Sun.