March 4, 2021: The bright moon is in Libra. Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn are in the east-southeast before sunrise. Mercury nears a conjunction with Jupiter.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:20 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:45 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This morning before sunrise, the bright, gibbous moon is about one-third of the way up in the south-southwest. The lunar orb is in Libra between the dim stars Gamma Librae (γ Lib on the chart) and Iota Librae (ι Lib).
These stars were once part of the classic Scorpion. The two stars that marked the claws, Zubeneschamali (“northern claw”) and Zubenelgenubi (“southern claw”) are the brightest stars in the Scales.
Libra is the only constellation in the zodiac (“circle of animals”) that is not a real or mythological living thing – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Cetus, and Pisces. (Orion’s arm is part of the zodiac as well. The planets and moon are sometimes visible in front of those stars.)
Three planets are visible before sunrise. Saturn is first to appear and it is about 6° above the east-southeast horizon, about 45 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter and Mercury are visible low in the east-southeast by 30 minutes before sunup, but a binocular is needed to see them during this bright phase of twilight.
Jupiter is the brightest planet of this trio. The Jovian Giant is only 5° above the horizon. This morning Mercury is 0.6°, slightly larger than the moon’s diameter in the sky, to the upper right of bright Jupiter. Both easily fit into the same binocular field. Saturn is over 8° to the upper right of Jupiter. Put Jupiter to the lower left of the binocular field, then move the binocular slightly to the upper right to see Saturn.
Detailed Note: One hour before sunrise, the moon (20.7d, 68%) is about 30° up in the south-southwest. It is between Gamma Librae (γ Lib, m = 3.9) and Iota Librae (ι Lib, m = 4.5). The lunar orb is 3.9° to the lower right of γ Lib and 3.5° to the upper left of ι Lib. Three planets are in the east-southeast before sunrise. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Saturn is over 6° in altitude in the east-southeast. Fifteen minutes later, Jupiter is nearly 5° in altitude, over 8° to the lower left of Saturn. Use a binocular to find it with Mercury 0.6° to Jupiter’s upper right. One hour after sunset, Mars is less than 60° up in the west-southwest, 2.6° to the lower left of Alcyone, as the Red Planet passes the star this evening.
Read more about the planets during March 2021.
April 25, 2021: Mercury passes Evening Star Venus this evening after sunset. Look low in the western sky about 20 minutes after sunset. Mars is marching eastward in Gemini, near the star cluster Messier 35. The bright moon is near Spica.
April 25, 2021: Morning planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise. Jupiter is in front of the stars of Aquarius, while Saturn’s starry background is Capricornus.
April 24, 2021: Brilliant Evening Star Venus and bright Mercury are entering the evening sky. They are low in the west-northwest during evening twilight. The bright moon is in the southeast in Virgo. Mars moves into Gemini as it approaches the star cluster Messier 35.
April 24, 2021: The bright gibbous moon is near a star in Virgo during the early morning. From parts of the Western Hemisphere, the moon covers the star. Before sunrise, bright morning planets, Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise.
April 23, 2021: Evening Star Venus and Mercury are entering the evening sky. They are found very low in the west-northwest after sunset. The bright moon is in the southeastern sky during the early evening. Mars is moving toward the star cluster Messier 35.