Bright Morning Star Venus waltzes through Virgo in the eastern morning sky as Mercury joins the view. In the evening bright Mars is in the eastern sky. In the southwest, Jupiter continues to dance toward Saturn as a prelude to the Great Conjunction of December 21, 2020.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:28 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:40 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in your location.
International Space Station Pass (Chicago, Illinois area) begins at 6:00 a.m. CST low in the northwest. It reaches its highest point about 54° up in the north-northeast at 6:03 a.m. CST. It disappears at 6:07 a.m. CST about 10° up in the east-southeast. The bright ISS moves near the star moves through the Big Dipper and passes between Arcturus and Vega before it disappears. An earlier pass begins at 4:26 a.m. CST in the north-northeast, its highest point (17°), and disappears 2 minutes later in the east-northeast.
Morning: Venus continues to dominate the morning sky as the bright star in the east before sunrise. It is moving eastward through the stars of Virgo. The planet is 1.1° to the lower right of Gamma Virginis (γ Vir on the chart above). Use a binocular to see the star and the planet. Tomorrow Venus is farther away from the star.
Earlier Mars and Venus are visible for a few more days before Mars sets before Venus rises. Can you still find both of them at about 4 a.m. CST? You’ll need clear views of the horizons in the east and west to view both worlds.
By 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury and Spica are above the east-southeast horizon enough to see them. Mercury is beginning its best morning appearance of the year. It is brighter than Spica and 4.5° to the left of the star. Find an observing spot with a clear view toward the east-southeast.
Morning detailed note: In a bright sky illuminated by a bright gibbous moon at 4 a.m. CST, Mars is only 3° up in the west, while Venus is only 4° above the eastern horizon. You’ll need a good horizon to see them. They are nearing their opposition. This morning they are 174.4° of ecliptic longitude apart. Soon Mars does not appear in the morning sky with Venus. The Red Planet continues to retrograde in Pisces while Venus steps eastward in Virgo. This is an unusual observation to make. With the sky full of planets during the summer, the bright stars of the Orion region dominate the morning sky. Mercury is in view for a short time before it disappears back into the sun’s glare to leave Venus as the lone bright planet for the remainder of the year. One hour before sunrise, the bright moon (19.7 days after the New moon phase, 80% illuminated) – nearly 60° up in the west-southwest – is 2.2° above Mu Geminorum (μ Gem, m =2.8). Farther east, Venus is less than 20° up in the east-southeast. This brilliant planet is 1.1° to the lower right of Gamma Virginis (γ Vir) and 5.1° to the lower left of Eta Virginis (η Vir). Through a telescope Venus displays a morning gibbous phase that is 82% illuminated at 12.9” across. This morning Venus is over 14° above Spica, over 5° up in the east-southeast. Mercury (m = 0.0) is 4.5° to the left of Spica. As the sky brightens further, Mercury is nearly 8° up in the east-southeast at 45 minutes before sunrise.
Evening: Bright Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are evening planets. Rusty Mars is in the east-southeast as the sky darkens after sunset, while bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. Mars continues to retrograde in Pisces. Jupiter and Saturn are moving eastward each night compared to the starry background. Jupiter is 4.7° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.6° to the left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr on the chart) and 3.9° to the lower right of 56 Sgr. Saturn is 2.1° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. About 10:45 p.m. CST, the moon is over 15° up in the east-northeast, 8.6° to the upper right of Pollux (Gemini).
Evening detailed note: In the evening sky one hour after sunset, Mars is nearly 24° in altitude in the east-southeast. In the starfield, it is 2.5° to the upper right of 80 Piscium (80 Psc) and 3.3° to the lower right of Epsilon Psc (ε Psc). Through a telescope, Mars is 19.2” across. As Mars retrogrades, Jupiter is moving eastward among the stars of eastern Sagittarius, 84.1° of ecliptic longitude west of the Red Planet. The Jovian Giant – nearly 24° up in the south-southwest is 4.7° to the lower right of Saturn, 1.6° to the left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr) and 3.9° to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). Saturn is 2.1° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Five hours after sunset (10:45 p.m.), the moon 20.4 days after the New moon phase, 73% illuminated) – 16.0° up in the east-northeast – is 8.6° to the upper right of Pollux (β Gem, m = 1.2).
Read more about the planets during November.
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.