November 25, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 26 days. After sunset, the bright gibbous moon is below Mars in the east-southeastern sky. Jupiter continues to approach Saturn as the conjunction is less than 4 weeks away.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:53 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:23 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This evening the bright gibbous moon appears near Mars. About an hour after sunset, the moon is 5.2° below the Red Planet. Mars is in front of the stars of Pisces, while the lunar orb is in front of the stars of Cetus, the Sea Monster. The stars of the creature likely represent the sea creature in the famous Perseus myth.
The pairing of Mars and the moon is nearly an all night affair. They are visible most of the night, from shortly after sunset until about 3 a.m. CST the next morning, about 4 hours before local sunrise.
During the night, the Mars-moon pair appears farther west as our planet rotates. They are in the southern sky at about 8:45 p.m. CST (about 4.5 hours after local sunset.) At this time, Mars is to the upper right of the moon.
As the midnight hour approaches, Mars and the moon are in the west-southwest. Mars is to the right of the moon. The moon, though, is slowly inching away from the Red Planet.
At 2 a.m. CST (November 26, about 5 hours before local sunrise), the pair is low in the west, Mars to the right of the moon. The gap has grown to 5.6°. Within an hour, both have disappeared below the western horizon
With the moon’s brightness, dimmer stars are difficult to see without some optical help. Mars is marching eastward near Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart) and Delta Piscium (δ Psc). The planet is 2.1° to the lower right of ε Psc and 3.0° to the lower left of δ Psc.
Farther westward, 81.0° of ecliptic longitude west of Mars, Jupiter is low in the south-southwest. The Jovian Giant is slowly approaching Saturn. Brighter Jupiter is 2.7° to the lower right of Saturn. It’s easy to observe the changing places of the two planets as the gap in the sky between them closes. The Great Conjunction occurs in 26 days.
As with Mars, the bright moon makes difficult observing of the dimmer stars that make the starry background for the slow-moving planets. With a binocular spot the planets near the dim star 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart). Jupiter is 1.8° to the lower left of the star, while Saturn is 4.1° to the upper left.
For more about Mars during November, see this article.
Detailed note: One hour after sunset, the moon (10.8d, 83%) – over one-third of the way up in the east-southeast in the constellation Cetus – is 5.2° below Mars. The Red Planet is 2.1° to the lower right of ε Psc and 3.0° to the lower left of δ Psc. Jupiter – nearly 21° up in the south-southwest – is 81.0° of ecliptic longitude west of Mars. The Jovian Giant is 2.7° to the lower right of Saturn. Great Conjunction countdown: 26 days. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.8° to the lower left of 56 Sgr and 4.1° to the upper left of 52 Sgr. Jupiter is 3.2° to the upper left of 56 Sgr.
morning sky before sunrise. Observe that the moon is in a different spot each morning, farther east toward the impending sunrise.
June 15, 2021: The moon is with the Sickle of Leo this evening. Step outside about an hour after sunset to find the crescent moon that is about 30% illuminated over one-third of the way up in the west.
July 12, 2021: Venus – Mars conjunction evening. Evening Star Venus passes 0.5° to the upper right of the Red Planet. The crescent moon is nearby. This is the first of three conjunctions of Venus and Mars – a triple conjunction.
July 1, 2021: Saturn and Mars are in opposite directions in the sky. Mars sets as Saturn rises. In about a week, the two planets are visible in the sky at the same time. This event signals that the planet parade is starting to reorganize. During July, three other planet – planet oppositions occur, leading up to a challenging view of the five bright planets during mid-August.
June 13, 2021: After sunset, look for the thin crescent moon near Mars. The lunar sliver is also to the upper left of the star Pollux.