November 23, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 28 days. Jupiter and Saturn are paired together in the south-southwest as Jupiter approaches the Ringed Wonder. The gibbous moon is in the southeast to the right of Mars. The Red Planet marches eastward in Pisces.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:50 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:24 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The bright gibbous moon is over one-third of the way up in the southeast. It is among very dim stars in eastern Aquarius. The moon is over two-thirds illuminated and showers the sky with its reflected sunlight, overriding the dim stars.
Mars is over 20° to the left of the lunar orb. It is marching eastward in Pisces. While the stars behind Mars are washed out by the moon’s brightness, use a binocular to see them.
The planet’s eastward march is resuming after it finished retrograding earlier this month. Its position compared to Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart) and Delta Piscium (δ Psc) changes each evening. This evening the Red Planet is 2.4° to the lower right of ε Psc.
Farther west, Jupiter continues to approach Saturn. The Great Conjunction is 4 weeks away. This event has been playing out all year. A summary of the year’s slow approach can be found here. An hour after sunset, the planet pair is low in the south-southwest. Jupiter is the overly bright star and Saturn is 2.9° to Jupiter’s upper left.
Use a binocular to observe that Jupiter is 1.9° to the lower left of 56 Sgr and 3.8° to the upper left of 52 Sgr. Saturn is 3.1° to the upper left of 56 Sgr. With these early sunsets, be sure to observe them early. Jupiter sets a few minutes after 8 p.m. CST, about 3 hours, 40 minutes after sunset.
For more about Mars during November, see this article.
Detailed note: One hour after sunset, the moon (8.8d, 67%) – over 33° in altitude above the southeast horizon – is in eastern Aquarius. It is over 24° to the right of Mars, that has about the same altitude as the lunar orb. The planet is 2.4° to the lower right of ε Psc and 2.9° to the lower left of δ Psc. Farther west, bright Jupiter is over 21° in altitude in the south-southwest, 2.9° to the lower right of Saturn. Twenty-eight days until the Great Conjunction. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.9° to the lower left of 56 Sgr and 3.8° to the upper left of 52 Sgr. Saturn is 3.1° to the upper left of 56 Sgr.
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.