During morning twilight brilliant Morning Star Venus shines from low in the east-southeast before sunrise as it steps eastward in front of the stars of Virgo. The gibbous moon lies in front of the stars of Cancer, between Leo and Gemini. In the evening sky. Jupiter continues to dance toward Saturn in a prelude to the Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. In the east-southeast, Mars marches eastward among the dim stars of Pisces.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:03 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times in your location. Add the time intervals in the notes to your local sunrise or sunset times.
Morning: An hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is low in the east-southeastern sky, to the lower left of the star Zubenelgenubi, the brightest star in Libra. Use a binocular to spot dimmer Nu Librae (ν Lib on the chart) to the lower left of Venus. With a binocular watch Venus pass the dimmer star and move away from it during the next few mornings.
Farther west, the bright gibbous moon is nearly two-thirds of the way up in the sky in the west-southwest. It is among the dim stars of Cancer, between the star Regulus, in Leo, and the Gemini Twins – Pollux and Castor.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is nearly 12° in altitude above the east-southeast horizon and 2.3° to the lower left of Zubenelgenubi. Use a binocular to see dim Nu Librae (ν Lib, m = 5.2) 1.7° to the lower left of Venus. Watch Venus pass and move away from ν Lib during the next few mornings. Through a telescope, Venus is 11.5” across and 90% illuminated, a morning gibbous. Meanwhile, in the west, the bright gibbous moon (20.3d, 76%) is nearly two-thirds of the way up in the sky in the west-southwest. It is between Gemini and Leo, in the dim constellation Cancer. It is nearly midway from Regulus (α Leo, m = 1.3) and Pollux.
Evening: In the evening sky, Jupiter is low in the southwest as the sky darkens, 1.7° to the lower right of dimmer Saturn. Both planets resemble overly bright stars – the brightest in this region of the sky. Jupiter continues to close the gap to Saturn as the Great Conjunction approaches. Use a binocular to watch Jupiter and Saturn move relative to the dim star 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart). Saturn is slowly approaching an even dimmer star Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap.)
Read about Mars during December.
Farther east, Mars is nearly halfway up in the east-southeastern sky. It is a bright rusty “star,” dimmer than Jupiter. With a binocular spot the Red Planet in a small triangle of stars, Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart), Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc), and 80 Piscium (80 Psc). It is to the right of a line from ε Psc to ζ Psc.
Evening detailed note: One hour after sunset, Jupiter is over 18° up in the southwest, 1.7° to the lower right of Saturn. Great Conjunction Countdown: 16 days. Among the stars, Jupiter and Saturn are near 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). Jupiter is 2.7° to the left of the star, while Saturn is 4.0° to the upper left of 56 Sgr. Additionally, Saturn is 4.1° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap). Mars – over 40° up in the east-southeast – is 81.0° of ecliptic longitude east of Jupiter, over 40° up in the east-southeast. The gap between the two planets grows slowly as Mars picks up speed as it marches eastward in Pisces. With a binocular spot the Red Planet inside a triangle made by Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc), Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc), and 80 Piscium (80 Psc). The planet is 1.2° to the lower left of ε Psc and 1.5° to the upper right of ζ Psc. Mars is to the right of a line from ε Psc to ζ Psc. Make nightly observations of the morning and evening planets to see them move compared to their starfields. Through a telescope, Mars is 13.7” across.
Here is more about the planets during December 2020.
February 19-21: The bright moon moves through the constellation Taurus. Use a binocular to see the starry background with the moon.
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.