November 24, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 27 days. Jupiter continues to close the gap to Saturn. The Jovian Giant passes 0.1° from the Ringed Wonder on December 21, 2020. Tonight, the gibbous moon is to the lower right of Mars. Use a binocular to see the Red Planet in the starfield.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:52 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:23 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Jupiter continues to close in on Saturn as the Great Conjunction approaches. The meeting occurs in 27 days. The planets are low in the south-southwest as the sky darkens after sunset. Jupiter is the bright “star” in that direction, while Saturn is 2.8° to the Jovian Giant’s upper left. Three fingers of one hand should fit between them in the sky.
Because of the moon’s brightness, use a binocular to see the two planets in the starfield. They are moving relative to all the stars, but the dim star 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart) is the best sign post in the region. Saturn is 3.2° to the upper left of the star, while Jupiter is 1.8° to the star’s lower left.
Farther east, that bright gibbous moon is to the lower right of Mars that is over one-third of the way up in the east-southeast. Tomorrow they are closer together as the moon moves farther east during its monthly journey.
Use a binocular to spot Mars with its starry background of the dim stars of Pisces. Tonight, the Red Planet is 2.2° to the lower right of Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart) and 2.9° to the lower left of Delta Piscium (δ Psc). Mars is picking up eastward speed after it ended its retrograde motion over 10 days ago.
For more about Mars during November, see this article.
Detailed note: One hour after sunset, the moon (9.8d, 76%) is over 32° up in the southeast, in Pisces. The gibbous moon is nearly 13° to the lower right of Mars. The Red Planet is nearly 35° in altitude above the east-southeast horizon, 2.2° to the lower right of ε Psc and 2.9° to the lower left of δ Psc. With the bright moon, use a binocular to spot the dimmer stars near Mars. Farther west, Saturn is nearly 23° in altitude in the south-southwest, 2.8° to the upper right of bright Jupiter. Great Conjunction countdown: 27 days. In the starfield, Saturn is 3.2° to the upper left of 56 Sgr, while Jupiter is 1.8° to the star’s lower left. The Jovian Giant is 4.0° to the upper left of 52 Sgr.
Read more about the planets during November.
February 18, 2021: The moon, waxing toward its First Quarter moon phase, is high in the southwest after sunset. Planet Mars is 3.8° to the upper right of the moon. Mars is parading eastward compared to the starry background in eastern Aries as it heads toward the Taurus border.
February 6, 2021: Before sunrise, look east-southeast for the waning crescent moon. It is 4.5° to the upper left of Antares – the rival of Mars.
During February 2021, Mars parades eastward in the dim starfield of Aries and moves into Taurus, nearing a March conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster.