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.
December 28, 2021: Brilliant Venus is quickly slipping from the evening sky. Mercury appears beneath Venus after sunset. This duo is joined by Jupiter and Saturn. In the morning, Mars is near Antares and the moon near Spica.
December 27, 2021: The Red Planet Mars passes Antares this morning before sunrise. At the same hour, the moon is near Spica. The three bright planets – Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter – are in the evening sky.
November 25, 2021: This is my postcard to my friends on Earth.
December 21, 2021: The winter solstice occurs at 9:59 a.m. CST. Mars is in the morning sky along with a bright moon. The planet pack – Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn – is in the southwestern sky after sunset.
December 19, 20, and 21, 2021: The bright moon leading up to the winter solstice appears in the western sky before sunrise in front of Gemini.