December 8, 2020: The Great Conjunction countdown: 13 days. Jupiter continues to close in on Saturn. Rusty Mars is in the eastern sky. The bright moon is in the sky nearly all night.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:06 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:20 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The Great Conjunction of 2020 is 13 days away! Bright Jupiter is low in the southwest after sunset. Jupiter is 1.1° to the lower right of Saturn. In the eastern sky, Mars Marches eastward in Pisces.
Bright Jupiter is in the southwest after sunset. Saturn is 1.1° to the upper left of Jupiter.
To find the planet pair, start looking in the southern sky as night falls after sunset. Jupiter is the brightest “star” in the area, about one-fourth of the way up in the sky. Saturn is dimmer than Jupiter, but brighter than most of the other stars nearby.
Hold up your index finger. At arm’s length, your finger fills the space between the two planets.
Look after sunset, during this season of early sunsets. Jupiter sets nearly three hours after sunset. An hour before sunset, it is already low in the southwest.
Farther eastward, Mars is the bright rusty star, over halfway up in the sky in the southeast. It marches eastward among the stars of Pisces.
Read about Mars during December.
The planet is nicely placed with a triangle of stars – Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc on the chart), Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc) and 80 Piscium (80 Psc). Use a binocular to spot the planet against the starry backdrop.
Use the binocular to watch Mars quickly move away from the small triangle during the next several evenings. The planet is heading toward the region of dim Pi Piscium (π Psc).
During early January 2021, Mars moves into Aries. The star Hamal is the brightest star in the constellation. The planets’ paths do not approach the star. Mars passes nearly 9° to the lower left of the star on January 23.
For more about Mars during December, see this article.
Detailed note: One hour after sunset, bright Jupiter is 17° up in the southwest, 1.1° to the lower right of Saturn. Great Conjunction Countdown: 13 days. Farther east, Mars is nearly halfway up in the sky in the southeast. Mars is 1.4° to the lower left of ε Psc, 1.2° to the upper right of ζ Psc, and 1.9° to the upper left of 80 Psc. Use a binocular to spot the planet with the stars that make a small triangle.
Here is more about the planets during December 2020.
January 20, 2021: Mercury is low in the west-southwest after sunset. The bright moon is to the lower right of Mars, while the Red Planet passes planet Uranus.
January 19, 2021: Mercury is low in the west-southwest after sunset. The moon is approaching Mars before their grouping tomorrow evening. Mars nears the planet Uranus before tomorrow’s conjunction.
January 18, 2021: Without a bright morning planet, bright Arcturus and the constellation Bootes the Herdsman is high in the south. The crescent moon is in the early evening sky. Mars is near the planet Uranus. They are high in the south-southeast as night falls.