In the morning before sunrise, the slightly gibbous moon is in Leo, between Regulus and Denebola. Brilliant Morning Star Venus is low in the southeast, stepping eastward in Virgo. With the Great Conjunction in two weeks, Jupiter is near Saturn in the southwest after sunset. Mars marches eastward among the stars of Pisces.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:05 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: About an hour before sunrise, the slightly gibbous moon is two-thirds of the way up in the south-southwest between Regulus and Denebola in Leo. The moon is below a line that connects the two stars.
Denebola is taken to mean “the Lion’s Tail.” Other stars have the name “Deneb” in them. In Cygnus, Deneb marks the “Swan’s Tail.” In Capricornus, Deneb Algedi is the “Kid’s Tail,” while in Cetus, Deneb Kaitos is the “Monster’s Tail.”
At this hour, Venus is low in the southeast in front of the stars of Libra. It is 4.5° to the lower left of Zubenelgenubi – the “Northern Claw.” The “Southern Claw,” Zubeneschamali is nearby. Use a binocular to see dim Nu Librae (ν Lib), 0.8° to the upper right of Venus.
Morning detailed note: One hour before sunrise, the moon (22.3d, 56%) – over 60° in altitude in the south-southwest – is over 10° to the upper left of Regulus and nearly 15° to the lower right of Denebola (β Leo, m = 2.1). The lunar orb is below a line that connects the two stars. At this time, brilliant Venus shines from low in the southeast. It is 4.5° to the lower left of Zubenelgenubi and 0.8° to the lower left of ν Lib. Look at the starfield with a binocular. The trio is nearly in a line.
Evening: In the evening sky, Jupiter continues to slowly close in on Saturn. In two weeks, Jupiter passes Saturn for the Great Conjunction of 2020. One hour after sunset, find bright Jupiter less than one-fourth of the way up in the southwest. Saturn, not as bright as Jupiter – is 1.5° away from the Jovian Giant. Each clear evening, use a binocular to watch Jupiter and Saturn move compared to the stars. This evening Jupiter is 3.0° to the left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the chart), while Saturn is 4.2° to the upper left of that star. The Ringed Wonder slowly approaches Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap). The gap tonight is 3.9°. Saturn is to the lower right of the star.
Read about Mars during December.
Farther east, rusty Mars is about halfway up in the southeast. The planet is slowly moving eastward in Pisces. Use a binocular to observe that it is inside a small triangle made by Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart), Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc) and 80 Piscium (80 Psc). Each clear evening watch the Red Planet move compared to this triangle and as it emerges on its east side in a few evenings. Tonight, it is 1.2° to the lower left of ε Psc and 1.5° to the upper right of ζ Psc. It is to the right of a line from ε Psc to ζ Psc.
The moon is at its Last Quarter phase at 6:37 p.m. CST.
Evening detailed note: One hour after sunset, Jupiter is over 17° up in the southwest, 1.5° to the lower right of Saturn.Jupiter continues to close the gap to Saturn. Great Conjunction Countdown: 14 days. Continue to watch the nightly change with a binocular. Jupiter is 3.0° to the left of 56 Sgr. Saturn is 4.2° to the upper left of that star and 3.9° to the lower right of σ Cap. Mars shines from the southeast, nearly halfway up in the sky. The Red Planet is inside a triangle formed by dim stars ε Psc, ζ Psc, and 80 Psc. It is 1.2° to the lower left of ε Psc and 1.5° to the upper right of ζ Psc. It is to the right of a line from ε Psc to ζ Psc. The moon is at its Last Quarter phase at 6:37 p.m. CST.
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.