Brilliant Venus shines in the eastern sky near Spica before sunrise. Mercury appears lower in the sky as sunup approaches. This speedy planet is making its best morning appearance of the year. In the evening sky, Mars appears in the eastern sky after sunset. At the same time Jupiter dances toward Saturn before their Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:40 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:30 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Morning: Looking eastward before sunrise, Venus continues to brilliantly shine from the east-southeast. About 45 minutes before sunup, spot Spica about 5° to the lower right of the planet.
At the same time, Mercury is making its best morning appearance of the year. You’ll need a clear horizon to the east-southeast. It is about 8° in altitude and nearly 13° to the lower left of Venus.
Extend your fist. At arm’s length, from the thumb knuckle to the pinky finger is about 10°. When looking at the sky and holding out your fist, your hand should fit between Venus and Mercury.
Mercury is less than “one fist” in altitude above the east-southeast horizon. Be sure to avoid trees, houses, and other obstacles that might block your horizon.
At about this time (5:43 a.m. CST), the moon is at its closest point to Earth (perigee), 222,387 miles away.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, Venus is over 17° up in the east-southeast and 4.7° to the upper left of Spica. Mercury is nearly 13° to the lower left of Venus and 10.9° to the lower left of Spica. The moon is at perigee at 5:43 a.m. CST, 222,387 miles away. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Mercury is over 8° in altitude in the east-southeast.
Evening: During the evening, Jupiter and Saturn continue to shine from the south-southwest. The gap between them is 3.8°. Jupiter continues to dance toward Saturn as a prelude to their Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.
Monitor this approach as the planets move eastward compared to the starry background of eastern Sagittarius. Use a binocular to spot Jupiter is 2.7° to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart), while Saturn is 2.5° to the lower left of that star. Notice that Jupiter is 3.0° to the upper left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr).
Farther eastward, Mars is now gently moving eastward compared to the stars of Pisces. It finished its retrograde motion along the plane of the solar system yesterday.
The planet is that rusty star in the southeast after sunset.
Use a binocular to observe the Red Planet 3.2° to the lower right of Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart) and 3.1° below Delta Piscium (δ Psc).
Mars begins to pickup speed as compared to the stars, By month’s end it is near the triangle formed by ε Psc, Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc) and 80 Piscium (80 Psc). See the chart for the triangle’s location compared to Mars’ position this evening.
For more about Mars during November, see this article.
Evening detailed note: One hour after sunset, Saturn is about 25° in altitude in the south-southwest, 3.8° to the upper left of Jupiter. The Jovian Giant is 60° east of the sun. In the starfield Saturn is 2.5° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, while Jupiter is 2.7° to the star’s lower right and 3.0° to the upper left of 50 Sgr. Farther east, Mars, nearly 29° in altitude in the east-southeast, is 3.2° to the lower right of ε Psc and 3.1° below δ Psc. Mars is slowly moving eastward compared to the starry background. By month’s end the Red Planet is nearly 2° east of its current location. The moon is at its New phase at 11:07 p.m. CST.
Read more about the planets during November.
May 28, 2021: This evening Mercury passes brilliant Venus for the second of three conjunctions during this evening apparition of the second planet from the sun. Use a binocular about 45 minutes after sunset to see the speedy planet 0.4° to the lower left of Venus. This is the closest visible conjunction until 2033.
May 24, 2021: Morning planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise. In the evening sky, brilliant Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Mars line up along the solar system’s plane. The bright moon is in the southeast near Zubenelgenubi, “the southern claw.”
May 23, 2021: Five bright planets parade across the sky. Jupiter and Saturn are visible before sunrise in the southeastern sky. The star Fomalhaut is becoming visible below bright Jupiter and near the horizon. After sundown, Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Mars are in the western sky. The bright moon is in the southeastern sky during the nighttime hours.
May 22, 2021: Five planets parade across the sky. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise. Evening Star Venus, Mercury and Mars are in the western sky after sunset. A bright moon is in the southeastern sky.
May 21, 2021: Three bright planets are dancing in the western sky after sundown. Evening Star Venus is entering the sky for a months-long residency after its solar conjunction two months ago. Mercury is heading for a conjunction with Venus after its best evening appearance of the year. Mars continues its eastward march in Gemini, but time is running out on its appearance as it approaches brighter evening twilight and a conjunction with Venus.