Morning Star Venus continues to brightly shine as “that bright star in the east” each morning before sunrise. Venus and Mercury continue their morning waltz through Spica. Evening planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn slowly dance through the stars.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:30 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:38 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in your location.
International Space Station Pass (Chicago, Illinois area) begins at 5:14 a.m. CST low in the north-northwest. It reaches its highest point about 36° up in the north-northeast at 5:16 a.m. CST. It disappears at 5:19 a.m. CST about 10° up in the east. Find an unobstructed view to the north and east. The ISS moves close to Arcturus before it disappears.
Morning: Brilliant Venus continues its spectacular morning appearance. This morning it continues its eastward waltz through Virgo. It is 1.5° to the lower right of Gamma Virginis (γ Vir on the chart above). The star Spica is farther below Venus. Speedy Mercury is to the lower left of Spica. Use a binocular to first locate the star and then the planet. The main challenge is to locate a clear horizon to the east-southeast.
In a few mornings, Mars disappears below the western horizon before Venus rises. This morning around 4 a.m. CST, Mars is low in the west as Venus rises into the eastern sky.
Notice Arcturus; the bright topaz star, in the east, has nearly the same altitude as Venus.
Before sunrise this morning, the bright gibbous moon is below the star Pollux, in the western sky.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus – less than 20° up in the east-southeast – is 1.5° to the lower right of γ Vir. Spica, over 13° below Venus, is about 6° in altitude. Mercury (m = −0.2) is 4.8° to the lower left of Spica. Notice that during the next few morning Arcturus (α Leo, m = −0.7) – over 30° to the left of Venus – has nearly the same altitude as the planet at this hour. Fifteen minutes later, Mercury is over 8° in altitude. Farther west, the bright moon (20.7d, 71%) is 66.0° up in the southwest. It 6.1° to the upper right of Pollux.
Evening: Bright Mars shines from the east-southeast during the early evening while Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest.
Mars continues to retrograde among the dim starfield in Pisces. The apparent westward motion occurs when Earth passes the outer planets. The motion ends in a week and the planet begins to move eastward compared to the stars. It rises in the east before sunset and sets in the west before sunrise each evening. Its position in the stars is slightly different each morning because of its revolution around the sun and our planet’s as well.
Bright Jupiter and Saturn continue to dance eastward compared to the stars. Jupiter’s apparent eastward motion is faster than Saturn’s motion. Jupiter catches Saturn on December 21, 2020. Watch the planets move through the stars of eastern Sagittarius with a binocular. Observations on clear evenings reveal the small changes in their positions against the starry background.
As midnight approaches the gibbous moon is 7.4° below Pollux in the east-northeast.
Evening detailed note: In the evening, one hour after sunset, Saturn is nearly 26° up in the south-southwest and 4.5° to the upper left of bright Jupiter. In the starfield, Saturn is 2.2° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, while Jupiter is 3.7° to the lower right of the same star. Jupiter is also 1.7° to the left of 50 Sgr. Farther east, Mars is 24.0° in altitude above the east-southeast horizon. In the starfield, the Red Planet is 3.3° to the lower right of ε Psc and 3.7° below Delta Piscium (δ Psc, m = 4.4). As midnight approaches, the moon (21.4d, 63%) is 7.4° below Pollux. Use a binocular to see the Beehive Cluster (M44, NGC 2632) 7.8° below the gibbous moon. Return with a low-power eyepiece when the moon has left the morning sky or it is a thin crescent. I judge the moon’s brightness as to whether it is casting shadows. When there are no shadows from moonlight, then I can look at dimmer objects.
Read more about the planets during November.
March 14, 2021: On this first day of Daylight Saving Time, look for the crescent moon low in the western sky about 30 minutes after sunset. Mars is high in the west-southwest as the sky darkens.
March 14, 2021: Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southeastern sky before sunrise. Look for them about 45 minutes before sunrise.
March 13, 2021: Mars continues its eastward march through Taurus. It is between the Pleiades star cluster and the Hyades star cluster.