December 26, 2020: The gap between Jupiter and Saturn grows after their Great Conjunction five days ago. Find them low in the southwest after sunset. Farther eastward bright Mars parades through Pisces, while the bright moon is in the east.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:17 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:26 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The gap between Jupiter and Saturn continues to open. This evening it is wider than the apparent size of the moon, 0.5°.
Begin looking for Jupiter low in the southwest after sunset. Saturn is 0.6° to the lower right of the Jovian giant.
Jupiter is setting 2 hours after local sunset. The best observing time window is shortening from Jupiter’s earlier setting. Start looking for bright Jupiter about 45 minutes after sunset for the next 30-45 minutes. As the sky darkens further, the planetary duo is lower in the sky.
Farther east, bright Mars is over halfway up in the sky in the southeast. It continues its eastward parade through Pisces. Use a binocular to find it 5.1° to the left of Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc on the chart) and 2.2° to the lower right of dim Pi Piscium (π Psc). Optical aid is needed to see the background stars from the bright moonlight.
During the night Mars appears farther west. It is south 2.5 hours after sunset. It sets in the west over 5 hours before sunrise.
That bright moon, over 90% illuminated, is over one-third of the way up in the sky in the east. The star Aldebaran is 10° to the lower left of the lunar orb.
Read about Mars during December.
Detailed note: One hour after sunset, bright Jupiter is less than 10° in altitude in the southwest. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 0.6°, as Jupiter moves father away from Saturn. Jupiter is 1.5° to the lower right of σ Cap. Farther east Mars is over 50° altitude in the southeast. It is 5.1° to the left of ζ Psc and 2.2° to the lower right of π Psc. The moon (12.3d, 91%) is over one-third of the way up in the sky in the east. It is 10.1° to the upper right of Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8).
Read more about the planets during December.
Look for the bright rosy star Betelgeuse during February evenings. It makes up the shoulder of Orion the Hunter.
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.