Bright Mars and brilliant Venus put on an early morning display.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Just before 5 a.m. CDT, bright Mars was high in the southwest. It is among the dim stars of Pisces. The Red Planet is slowly retrograding – moving westward compared to the starry background. This illusion occurs when our faster moving planet approaches and passes the slower moving outer planets.
This morning, Mars is nearly between the stars Omicron Piscium (ο Psc on the photo) and Nu Piscium (ν Psc). The planet is 0.9° above ν Psc and 2.8° below ο Psc.
Mars is closest to Earth on October 6. As Earth approaches Mars, the Red Planet becomes brighter, but not much larger in appearance to the human eye. While it can double in its apparent size through a telescope, the increase is imperceptible to the human eye (unlike what is shown in the social media memes.)
Earth moves between the sun and Mars on October 13. This is called opposition, because the planets appear on opposite sides of Earth and their place and visible times are opposite of each other.
At opposition, a planet rises at sunset, appears in the south around midnight, and sets in the west
At this hour, brilliant Venus is low in the east among the stars of Leo. An hour later, about 90 minutes before sunrise, Venus is higher in the sky.
At about 5 a.m. the famous constellation, Orion is in the south-southeast. Orion’s larger hunting dog, Canis Major, with its bright star Sirius is low in the southeast.
Among the stars Venus is moving eastward in Leo. This morning it is 4.8° to the upper left of Omicron Leonis (ο Leo on the photo). Watch Venus move farther away from ο Leo. Early next month, Venus passes Regulus, the constellation’s brightest star.
November 3, 2021: Before sunrise speedy planet Mercury, the crescent moon, and the star Spica are grouped together. The trio does not appear this close together again until 2033.
October 31, 2021: There is no Halloween Full moon this year, and the phase is not close. The crescent moon is in the morning sky. Mercury is low in the east-southeast before sunrise. The planet pack – Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter – gleam in the evening sky.
October 29, 2021: Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the sun. It is in the evening sky with Jupiter and Saturn. The crescent moon and Mercury are in the eastern sky before sunrise.
October 29 – November 1, 2021: The crescent moon moves in front of the stars of Leo in the eastern sky before sunrise. Watch the moon appear lower and the phase shrink (wane) each morning. Also note that there is no Full moon on Halloween this year!
October 26, 27, and 28, 2021: During the early morning hours, the bright gibbous moon appears in front of Gemini’s stars.