Brilliant Venus and bright Mars shine from the morning sky. Mars – one day before its closest approach to Earth – shines in the sky nearly all night.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Brilliant Venus shines from the east before sunrise, while Mars is in the sky nearly all night.
Mars shines from high in the western sky at the time of the photo above. It is in the dim starfield of Pisces.
Mars is one day from its closest approach to Earth. At their closest, the planets are 38.6 million miles apart. They will not be this close again until 2035.
Earth passes Mars about every 26 months, but because of the Red Planet’s elliptical orbit, the closest separation grows until February 19, 2027, and then diminishes until September 11, 2035. Then the separation is 35.4 million miles.
Presently, Mars appears as an overly bright star. The Martian globe is only one-half the size of Earth. As it shines by reflected sunlight and its apparent size changes from the changing distance, its brightness varies widely depending on its distance from Earth and the sun.
Mars rises in the east during early evening hours. During the night it moves westward with the rotating Earth. By morning it is in the western sky.
In a week (October 13), Earth passes between the sun and Mars. The Red Planet is said to be at opposition with the sun, as they are in opposite directions in our sky.
Mars is retrograding – moving westward compared to the stars – in Pisces. This is an illusion as Earth passes the slower moving planets.
On the photo above, Mars is 0.5° to the upper left of Mu Piscium (μ Psc on the photo). During the next several mornings, the planet passes this star. Take a look at the starfield with Mars using a binocular as the planet passes the star and moves away from it.
Farther eastward, brilliant Venus shines from the stars of Leo. It continues to outshine all other “stars” in the night sky. This morning the planet is 2.9° to the lower left of the bright star Regulus and 3.6° above Rho Leonis (ρ Leo on the photo above). As with Mars, use a binocular to watch Venus move away from Regulus and toward ρ Leo during the next several mornings.
Watch Venus continue to move through Leo during most of October.
The moon is in the region with Venus and Regulus beginning October 12.
Read more about the planets during October.
During the early evening hours of winter, the stars that shine from the southern sky are a sampler of the sky’s brightest stars.
January 21, 2021: Several bright stars are in the morning sky. This morning look for Antares in the east-southeast. Mercury – near its greatest elongation – is in the west-southwest after sunset. Mars and the moon are near each other. Planet Uranus is near Mars.
January 20, 2021: Mercury is low in the west-southwest after sunset. The bright moon is to the lower right of Mars, while the Red Planet passes planet Uranus.