Speedy Mercury joins Morning Star Venus in the eastern sky before sunrise. The first rock from the sun is entering the morning sky for its best appearance of the year. In the evening, Mars shines in the eastern sky, while in the south-southwest Jupiter edges toward its Great Conjunction with Saturn on December 21, 2020.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:24 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:44 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in different locations. (If you observe Daylight Saving Time in the USA, did you set your clock back to standard time, if your region uses it?)
On November 9, Venus and Mars are no longer in the morning sky together for the remainder of the calendar. They join each other next year in the evening sky. At 4 a.m. CST, Mars is low in the west and Venus is low in the east. As Mars leaves the sky in the west, Mercury is making its way into the eastern morning sky with Venus. Morning Star Venus continues to move eastward in the constellation Virgo. Use a binocular each morning to see the changing position of the planet. Farther west, the bright moon is about one-third of the way up in the west-southwest. The lunar orb is over 16° to the left of Hamal, the brightest star in Aries.
About 45 minutes before sunrise, Venus shines brightly in the eastern sky. Find a clear horizon and use a binocular to find Mercury very low in the east-southeast. The star Spica (Virgo) is nearly 4° to the upper right of Mercury. This speedy planet is beginning its best morning appearance of the year, when the plane of the solar system is conveniently tilted to see the first rock from the sun.
Detailed morning note: Two and a half hours before sunrise (4 a.m. CST), Mars (m = −2.1) is over 5° up in the west. At this hour Venus (m = −4.0) is about the same altitude in the east. This morning the planets are nearly 169° of ecliptic longitude apart. The Venus – Mars opposition occurs soon. Next week, Mars sets before Venus rises, leaving Mercury as the second morning planet. While Mars is low in the west, the moon (15.6d, 100%) is over 30° up in the west-southwest and about the same distance to the upper left of the Red Planet. The bright moon is in Aries, over 16° to the left of Hamal (α Ari, m = 2.0). At about an hour before sunrise, Venus is over 20° in altitude above the east-southeast horizon. Through a telescope, Venus is 13.1” across and 81% illuminated. The brilliant planet is 0.3° to the lower left of Eta Virginis (η Vir, m = 3.9). Fifteen minutes later, Spica (α Vir, m = 1.0), about 4° up in the east-southeast, is 3.9° to the upper right of Mercury (m = 1.3). A binocular will help with the initial identification of the speedy planet.
See our summary about Venus during November 2020 and the feature article about Venus as a Morning Star.
Evening: One hour after sunset, Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. Bright Jupiter is 5.0° to the lower right of dimmer Saturn. Both planets appear as overly bright stars. They are both slowly moving eastward compared to the stars. Nightly observations with a binocular show their gentle eastward trek in front of the starry background. Mars is farther eastward at this hour, less than one-third of the way up in the sky. It continues to retrograde in eastern Pisces. This apparent motion, compared to the stars, ends later this month. About two hours after sunset, the bright moon is low in the east-northeast. Jupiter sets at about 9:15 p.m. CST, followed by Saturn about 30 minutes later.
Detailed evening note: An hour after sunset, Jupiter (m = −2.2) is about 24° up in the south-southwest, 5.0° to the lower right of dimmer Saturn (m = 0.6). Jupiter continues to close in on Saturn before the Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. In the starfield Jupiter is 4.5° to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr, m = 4.8) and 1.1° to the lower left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr, m = 5.6). Saturn is 2.0° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Mars is 85.3° of ecliptic longitude east of Jupiter. Since its closest approach about a month ago, Mars’ apparent diameter has decreased over 12%. The Red Planet is 21.0° up in the east-southeast, 2.0° to the upper right of 80 Piscium (80 Psc, m = 5.5) and 3.2° to the lower right of Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc, m =4.2). Mars continues to retrograde in this dim Pisces starfield. Two hours after sunset, the moon (16.2d, 98%) is over 10° up in the east-northeast.
For more about the Great Conjunction, read our feature article. This is the closest Jupiter – Saturn conjunction since 1623.
Read more about the planets during November.