November 29, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 22 days. Jupiter and Saturn continue to close the gap to Saturn as these planets align for their Great Conjunction. The bright moon shines in the eastern sky after sunset and rides the moving sky westward during the night. Bright Mars continues to march eastward in Pisces.
November 29, 2020:
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:57 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:21 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn continues to slowly unfold in the south-southwest after sunset. Jupiter is the “bright star” that is about one-fifth of the way up in the sky. Saturn is dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than all the stars in the immediate vicinity. The Ringed Wonder is to the upper left of Jupiter.
Catch them from about 45 minutes after your local sunset time, until about 2 hours after sunset. By the later time, they are much lower in the sky. Jupiter sets about 3.5 hours after sunset. See them early before they are too low, behind neighborhood houses, trees, or buildings, to be seen.
During the next three weeks Jupiter noticeably closes in on Saturn. This is a slow-motion event that has been twenty years in the making, since the last Jupiter – Saturn conjunction in 2000.
With a binocular (because the background stars are dimmer and the bright moon is in the eastern sky) spot the planets against the starry background. Their motion through the sky can be observed each clear evening compared to the stars 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr) and Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap). Tonight, Jupiter is 2.0° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, while Saturn is 3.5° to the upper left of the star. The planets are headed in a direction that takes them toward σ Cap through December. This evening, Saturn is 4.7° to the lower right of that star.
Farther east, Mars is marching eastward through the dim stars of Pisces. The planet is that “bright star” in the southeastern sky when night falls.
If you’re looking later, Mars is in the south around 8:15 p.m. CST – about four hours after sunset. It sets at 2:45 a.m. CST – nearly 4 hours before sunrise.
Even without the bright moon, the background stars are not easily seen if you looking for them with streetlights in your city. Those who live in the country can likely pick out the dimmer stars without optical help if they stand outside for a few minutes to allow their eyes to adapt to the darkness. With a binocular notice that Mars is 1.5° to the lower right of Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc) and 1.9° to the upper right of 80 Piscium (80 Psc).
The bright moon is in front of the stars of Taurus. If you block the moon with your hand (by holding it up as you would to block the sun’s glare), you’ll spot the star Aldebaran, nearly 7° to the lower left of the lunar orb. The Pleiades star cluster is about 7° above the moon. They will be more challenging to see.
Sometimes the observer needs to be creative to block the bright moon’s light.
If you look later, the moon is in the south before midnight. It sets in the west tomorrow morning after sunrise.
For more about Mars during November, see this article.
Detailed note: One hour after sunset, the moon (14.8d, 100%) is about 12° in altitude in the east-northeast. Use a binocular to observe the lunar orb 6.8° to the upper right of Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8) and 7.3° below the Pleiades. Mars is nearly 38° up in the east-southeast, 1.5° to the lower right of ε Psc, 1.9° to the upper right of 80 Psc, and 3.3° to the lower left of δ Psc. Farther west, Jupiter is less than 20° up in the south-southwest. It is 2.3° to the lower right of Saturn. Great Conjunction countdown: 22 days. In the starfield, Jupiter is 2.0° to the lower left of 56 Sgr and 4.7° to the upper left of 52 Sgr. Saturn is 3.5° to the upper left of 56 Sgr and 4.7° to the lower right of σ Cap.
Read more about the planets during November.