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.
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.
December 31, 2021: This morning before sunup, the thin waning crescent moon appears near Mars and the star Antares. Four planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are on parade in the southwest after sundown.
December 30, 2021: The morning crescent moon seems to be captured in the Scorpion’s pincers to the upper right of Mars. Four Evening Planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are in the southwest after sundown.
December 28, 2021: The Great Andromeda Galaxy is nearly overhead at the end of the evening twilight.
December 29, 2021: The morning crescent moon approaches Scorpius and Mars. In the evening sky, four evening planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are lined up in the southwest. Venus is rapidly leaving the evening sky.