Bright Morning Star Venus continues to sparkle in the eastern sky before sunrise. It shines from in front of the stars of Virgo. Evening planet Mars appears in the eastern sky while Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. The bright gibbous moon shines from the stars of Capricornus.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:14 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 5:55 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in different locations.
International Space Station Pass (Chicago, Illinois area) begins at 5:16 a.m. CDT in the south-southeast. It reaches its highest point about 26° up in the southeast at 5:17 a.m. CDT. It disappears at 5:20 a.m. CDT about 10° up in the east-northeast. Find an unobstructed view to the east. The ISS first appears to the lower left of Sirius and moves toward Venus, passing above the brilliant planet. The station is brighter than Sirius, but dimmer than Venus.
Morning: Mars is rapidly disappearing from the morning sky. It is low in the west as Venus rises in the east. An hour before sunrise, find brilliant Venus in the east-southeast. It is among the stars of Virgo. Use a binocular to view it 1.9° above Beta Virginis (β Vir on the chart). Notice that the planet makes a line with the Lion’s Tail, Denebola, and Nu Virginis (ν Vir). Venus continues to step eastward among the stars. Use a binocular to watch the planet pass β Vir during the next two mornings.
Detailed morning note: Ninety minutes before sunrise, Mars is over 4° in altitude in the west. Thirty minutes later, Venus is 22.0° up in the east-southeast. It is 1.9° above β Vir. Notice that Denebola, ν Vir, and Venus are nearly in a line. Venus is 3.4° to the lower right of ν Vir and 11.4° to the lower right of the Lion’s Tail.
Evening: As the sky darkens in the evening, the gibbous moon is nearly one-third of the way up in the sky in the south-southeast. It is among the stars of Capricornus. Mars is above the tree line and rising higher during the evening. The planet is retrograding in Pisces. The westward motion of the planet compared to the starry background of Pisces is from the earth passing Mars and moving away from it. (See our Mars summary for October here.) Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest in front of the stars of Sagittarius. Both planets are moving eastward compared to the background stars, but slower than Mars’ motion. Jupiter catches Saturn for a Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. Make nightly observations to watch the gap slowly close during the next several weeks.
Detailed evening note:One hour after sunset, the moon (8.2 days past the New moon phase, 65% illuminated) is nearly 26° in altitude in the south-southeast. It is 4.1° to the lower right of Gamma Capricorni (γ Cap, m = 3.6). Mars is 16.0° up in the east. Farther west along the ecliptic, Jupiter is nearly 25° up in the south-southwest. Saturn is 5.7° to the upper left of brighter Jupiter. In the starfield, Jupiter is 0.6° to the lower left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr). Saturn is 1.8° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). An hour later, Mars is nearly 27° up in the east-southeast. In the starfield, the Red Planet is 0.8° to the lower right of 80 Piscium (80 Psc) and 3.2° to the lower right of Epsilon (ε Psc). The moon is about 28° up in the south with Saturn and Jupiter to the gibbous moon’s lower right.
Read more about the planets during October.
December 11, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 10 days! Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southwest as night falls. Jupiter continues to close the gap to the Ringed Wonder. Farther eastward, Mars marches eastward in Pisces.
December 11, 2020: As sunrise approaches, the crescent moon is to the upper right of the brilliant planet Venus.
December 10, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 11 days. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest as night falls. Bright Mars is in the southeast.