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.
February 6, 2021: Before sunrise, look east-southeast for the waning crescent moon. It is 4.5° to the upper left of Antares – the rival of Mars.
During February 2021, Mars parades eastward in the dim starfield of Aries and moves into Taurus, nearing a March conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster.
On February 11, 2021: Venus passes Jupiter during the daytime in a spectacular proximate conjunction.