The Winter Triangle is in the south before sunrise. During the nighttime hours four bright planets are visible: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:05 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:07 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in different locations.
Morning: Look for Sirius, Procyon, and Betelgeuse – the Winter Triangle – in the south one hour before sunrise. The bright planets resemble overly bright stars. An hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus sparkles in the east in front of the stars of Leo. It continues its eastward steps in front of that starry background. Mars is retrograding in eastern Pisces. The planet shines brightly from low in the western sky. Venus and Mars even outshine Sirius, the night’s brightest star that is low in the southern sky at this hour.
Detailed morning note: One hour before sunrise, Venus is nearly 24° up in the east-southeast, 1.2° below Chi Leonis (χ Leo), 3.0° to the upper right of Sigma Leonis (σ Leo, m = 4.0), and 5.3° to the right of Iota Leo (ι Leo). Use a binocular to see the starfield. Farther west along the ecliptic, Mars is about 8° above the western horizon. Spica is at its solar conjunction today. The Sun – Spica gap is 2.0°. The moon reaches its New Moon phase at 2:31 p.m. CDT, followed by its perigee (221,775 miles away) at 6:46 p.m. CDT.
Evening: Jupiter and Saturn continue to shine from the southern sky after sunset. Jupiter sets in the southwest a few minutes after 11 p.m. CDT, and Saturn sets about 11:40 p.m. Jupiter continues to close in on Saturn for their Great Conjunction later in the year. Meanwhile, rusty Mars sparkles in the eastern sky. It is a few days past its opposition with the sun. So, it rises in the east when the sun sets in the west and sets in the west as the sunrises in the east. The Red Planet is slowly retrograding among the stars of Pisces. Look each evening to notice the changing position of the planet compared to the dim stars.
Detailed evening note: One hour after sunset, Mars is nearly 11° in altitude in the east. Farther west along the ecliptic, Saturn is nearly 27° up in the south, and 6.3° to the upper left of bright Jupiter. Among the stars, Saturn is 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr), while Jupiter is 3.2° to the lower left of Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr) and 1.2° to the lower right of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr). Two hours after sunset, Mars – retrograding in Pisces – is 22.0° up in the east-southeast. In the starfield, Mars is 3.3° to the upper right of Mu Piscium (μ Psc), 1.5° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc), and 2.5° to the lower right of Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc).
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.