January 1, 2021: Jupiter and Saturn are becoming more difficult to see as Jupiter opens a 1.2° gap after their Great Conjunction on the winter solstice. Look early after sunset. Find Mars high in the southeast.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:18 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:31 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Bright Jupiter and Saturn, after their Great Conjunction 11 days ago, start the evening low in the southwest as night falls. Bright Jupiter has opened a gap of 1.2° to dimmer Saturn.
We are making our last call to see the planets, mainly because of their altitude. Unless you have a horizon free from obstructions, the planets have likely disappeared from your view.
The days are numbered to see Jupiter and Saturn. Before the month ends, both worlds disappear into the sun’s brightness as they reach their solar conjunctions.
The window to see the planets narrows. Jupiter sets about 100 minutes after sunset. Before they set, the window begins about 45 minutes after sunset and lasts 20-25 minutes before the planets are too low to be seen easily, especially dimmer Saturn.
They can be seen as early as 30 minutes after sunset, but that requires a binocular to pick out Saturn during bright twilight.
Mercury joins the Jovian duo in several days and the best views occur about 30 minutes after sunset. If you plan to see the speedy planet near Jupiter and Saturn, begin looking earlier with a binocular to locate Saturn in a brighter sky.
As the sky darkens further, find Mars nearly two-thirds of the way up in the southeastern sky. The planet continues its eastward march in Pisces near the Aries border. Use a binocular to spot the planet against the dim star field that includes Pi Piscium (π Psc) and Omicron Piscium (ο Psc).
Mars is high in the south about 2 hours after sunset. It sets in the west about 6 hours before sunrise.
Read about Mars during January.
Here is a summary of the planets’ activities during January 2021.
Detailed Note: Forty-five minutes after sunset, Jupiter (m = −2.0) is less than 9° up in the southwest, 1.2° to the upper left of Saturn (m = 0.6). As the sky darkens further, Mars (m = −0.2) – 80.9° of ecliptic longitude east of Jupiter – is over 55° up in the southeast. It is marching eastward in Pisces. In the starfield, it is 1.1° to the lower left of Pi Piscium (π Psc, m =5.5) and 2.5° above Omicron Piscium (ο Psc, m = 4.2). Four hours after sunset (8:30 p.m. CST), the gibbous moon (18.4d, 90%), in western Leo, is over 12° in altitude in the east-northeast.
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.