Five bright planets are visible during the nighttime hours. Brilliant Morning Star Venus is “that bright star” in the southeastern sky before sunrise. Venus waltzes near the star Spica leading up to its widely-spaced conjunction with the star. Mercury puts on its best morning display of the year to the lower left of Venus. During the evening in the south-southwest, Jupiter slowly dances toward Saturn as a lead-up to the December 21, 2020 Great Conjunction. Mars slowly dances eastward in Pisces in the eastern sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:41 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:30 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Morning: Brilliant Venus is low in the east-southeast as morning twilight brightens toward the approaching sunrise. The planet is passing the star Spica. This morning the planet is 4.1° to the star’s upper left. Tomorrow morning, Venus appears closest to the star.
Meanwhile, Mercury is very low in the sky, nearly 13° to the lower left of Venus. It is bright, but likely hiding behind a nearby house or building. Find a clear horizon to see it. By about 45 minutes before sunrise it is about 8° up above the east-southeast horizon. A binocular may help you to first locate it, and then spot it without the binocular’s optical assistance.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, Venus – over 17° up in the east-southeast – is 4.1° to the upper left of Spica. Mercury (−0.7) is 12.9° to the lower left of Venus. As the sky brightens further as sunrise approaches, find the speedy planet about 8° up in the east-southeast. Through a telescope, Venus is 12.4” across and 85% illuminated, a morning gibbous phase.
Evening: During the early evening bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. Saturn is 3.7° to Jupiter’s upper left. Jupiter slowly dances toward Saturn for their once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. Observe their slow-motion dance compared to the stars. This evening, Jupiter is 2.6° to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart), while Saturn is 2.6° to the star’s lower left.
Without a binocular, make an observation each night to notice that the gap between the two planets is closing.
Farther east, Mars is the rusty star that is about one-third of the way up in the sky in the east-southeast. It is slowly moving eastward among the stars of Pisces. Mars started moving eastward again after it finished its retrograde a few days ago. With a binocular notice that it is 3.0° below Delta Piscium (δ Psc on the chart) and 3.1° to the lower right of ε Psc. With a binocular notice the small triangle made by ε Psc, Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc) and 80 Piscium (80 Psc). The Red Planet approaches and moves through the triangle during the next few weeks.
For more about Mars during November, see this article.
Evening detailed note: Forty-five minutes after sunset, can you find Arcturus low in the west-northwest? The star is at its heliacal setting, last appearance to the unaided eye. It is already appearing in the morning sky. Next month it sets at sunset. In the evening, Jupiter is over 22° up in the south-southwest about one hour after sunset. Saturn is 3.7° to the upper left of bright Jupiter. Among the stars, Jupiter is 2.6° to the lower right of 56 Sgr, while Saturn is 2.6° to the star’s lower left. Mars (m = −1.6) is 82.0° of ecliptic longitude east of Jupiter. The gap slowly widens as Mars picks up its eastward pace. The Red Planet is nearly 30° up in the east-southeast, 3.1° to the lower right of ε Psc and 3.0° below δ Psc.
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.