Brilliant Morning Star Venus shines from the eastern sky during morning twilight. Mercury joins Venus as a morning planet. The speedy planet is to the lower left of the star Spica that is below Venus. The morning bright gibbous moon forms a long line with Procyon and Sirius. In the evening sky, bright Mars shines from the east while Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:31 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:37 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in your location.
International Space Station Pass (Chicago, Illinois area) begins at 6:01a.m. CST low in the west-northwest. It reaches its highest point about 55° up in the southwest at 6:05 a.m. CST. It disappears at 6:08 a.m. CST about 10° up in the southeast. This pass is very bright, rivaling the brilliance of Sirius. Because the sky is bright, be sure to catch the ISS moving in the west to follow it into bright twilight in the eastern sky. Another shorter pass is visible earlier for about 1.5 minutes beginning at 4:28 a.m. CST. The ISS moves low across the sky from the north-northeast to the east.
Morning: Venus continues to step eastward in Virgo between Gamma Virginis (γ Vir on the chart above) and Spica. Find the brilliant planet in the east-southeast. It is “that bright star” in the eastern sky. Use a binocular to see the starry background, along with Venus and Mercury. The speedy planet is making its best morning appearance of the year. At 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury is about 7° in altitude to the lower left of Spica. Find a clear horizon in that direction. Even at its best visibility, Mercury is a challenge to spot in the sky.
Look toward the bright gibbous moon (21.7 days after the New moon phase, 62% illuminated) in the south-southwest. It is to the lower left of the star Pollux. Notice that looking downward from the moon toward the horizon, spot Procyon and Sirius. All three of them are in a line that extends over 45°, a fourth of the way across the sky.
Can you still find Venus and Mars in the sky about 4 a.m. CST? Venus is very low in the east and Mars is very low in the west. In a few mornings, Mars sets before Venus rises.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is over 19° up in the east-southeast. It is 2.5° below γ Vir. At this hour, Spica is over 7° in altitude in the east-southeast, 5.1° to the upper right of Mercury (−0.4). Mercury is over 14° to the lower left of Venus. Farther west, the moon (21.7d, 62%) is over 70° in altitude in the south-southwest, 9.4° to the lower left of Pollux and 7.4° to the right of Delta Cancri (δ Cnc, m = 4.6). Additionally, the moon is 5.5° to the upper right of the Beehive star cluster (M44, NGC 2632). While the moon is bright, a binocular will help you locate the cluster among Cancer’s dim stars. On a wider scale, notice that the moon, Procyon (α CMi, m = 0.4), and Sirius (α CMa, m = −1.5) are nearly in a line that extends over 45°. Fifteen minutes later, Mercury is nearly 9° above the east-southeast horizon.
Evening: In the evening sky as the sky darkens, Mars is in the eastern sky, while Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. Mars continues to retrograde in front of the dim stars of Pisces. Use a binocular to follow Mars’ movement from night-to-night against the starry background. Jupiter and Saturn are slowing moving eastward compared to the stars in eastern Sagittarius.
Mars retrogrades for another week and then resumes its eastward march through Pisces. Jupiter slowly dances toward Saturn as a prelude to their Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.
Evening detailed note: One hour after sunset, Jupiter, nearly 24° up in the south-southwest, is 4.5° to the lower right of Saturn. Among the stars, Jupiter is 1.9° to the upper left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr). Use 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr) as a reference to notice the motions of Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter is 3.6° to the lower right of that star, while Saturn is 2.2° to the lower left. Mars is in the east-southeast, nearly 25° above the horizon. In the starfield it is 3.3° to the lower right of Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart) and 3.6° below Delta Piscium (δ Psc).
Read more about the planets during November.
January 6, 2022: Planet Mercury nears its evening greatest elongation. It appears in the evening sky, with a crescent moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. Venus sets soon after sundown. Mars is in the southeast before sunup.
January 5, 2022: Jupiter and the crescent are 5.5° in the evening sky. Look for Mercury and Saturn with the planet-moon duo. Earlier, Venus is low in the west-southwest. Before sunrise, Mars is near Antares.
January 4, 2022: Earth is at perihelion today – it’s closest point to the sun. Mars is a morning planet, while the evening planet pack – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – and the crescent moon are in the southwest after sundown.
January 3, 2022: The moon passes Venus for the final time of this evening appearance of Venus. As night falls, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter are visible in the southwest. Mars is in the southeast before sunrise.
December 30, 2021: As the year ends and the new one opens, the night sky’s brightest star – Sirius – is in the southern sky at the midnight hour.