January 16, 2021: With Venus slipping from the morning sky, look for bright stars in the morning sky. In the evening the crescent moon appears to the upper left of Mercury. Mars approaches planet Uranus.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:15 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:46 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Venus is becoming more difficult to observe and it may be easily visible for a few more mornings before sunrise. When Venus leaves, the morning sky is without any of the Classic 9 (Mercury – Pluto) planets.
One hour before sunrise, the Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair, and Deneb – sprawls across the east-northeastern sky. The stellar trio belongs to their own constellation. The stars are informally associated with the warmer season because they start out the evening at the summer solstice in about the same position they are this morning and they are in the sky all night. They are high in the western sky when the sky brightens before sunrise on the first day of summer.
About 30 minutes after sunset this evening, Mercury is about 5° in altitude above the west-southwest horizon. Find a clear location and use a binocular to see it. If your observing spot is ideal, you might catch Jupiter very low in the sky to Mercury’s lower right.
The crescent moon, 15% illuminated, is to Mercury’s upper left.
Saturn is setting at this time and it reappears in the morning sky later next month after its conjunction with the sun.
When the sky darkens further, Mars – not as bright as it was a month ago – is high in the south-southeast. It is approaching the planet Uranus for a widely-spaced conjunction in four evenings, although the brighter moon is nearby on that evening.
Use a binocular to locate the dim star 19 Arietis (19 Ari on the chart), 1.8° to the upper left of Mars. Aquamarine Uranus is 2.4° to the lower left of Mars. You’ll need at least 100x of magnification through a telescope to see the spherical nature of the planet.
Read about Mars during January.
Detailed Note: One hour before sunrise, find Altair (α Aql, m = 0.8) about 9° up in the east. Along with Deneb (α Cyg, m = 1.2), in the northeast, and Vega (α Lyr, m = 0.0), high in the east-northeast, the Summer Triangle is in the morning sky. Thirty minutes after sunset, Mercury is over 5° up in the west-southwest. The crescent moon (3.8d, 15%) is to the planet’s upper left. Saturn sets at Civil Twilight, when the sun is 6° below the horizon. As the sky darkens further, find Mars nearly 62° up in the south-southeast. It is 1.8° to the lower right of 19 Ari and 2.4° to the upper right of Uranus.
Read more about the planets during January.
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.