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2021, November 10:  Mercury-Mars Conjunction

The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends over 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep.

The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends over 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. (NASA)

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November 10, 2021:  Mars begins to enter the morning sky, for nearly a two-year appearance.  This morning Mercury passes the Red Planet.

Chart Caption – 2021, November 10: Mercury passes nearly 1° from Mars during bright morning twilight.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Mars begins nearly a two-year appearance in the sky with a conjunction with the planet Mercury.  The Red Planet is quite dim, while the speedy planet Mercury is brighter.  The pair appear close together before sunrise this morning.  This view is challenging because it occurs about 30 minutes before sunrise during bright twilight. 

Chart Caption – 2021, November 10: A binocular view of the morning Mercury-Venus conjunction.

A binocular or small telescope is necessary to see this conjunction.  The pair is in the east-southeast, about 4° above the horizon, at thirty minutes before sunup.  Dimmer Mars is nearly 1° to the lower right of Mercury.

Mars and Mercury are moving eastward compared to the starry background.  Closer to the sun, Mercury moves faster and pulls away from Mars after the conjunction.  Mercury passes on the far side of the sun on November 28, moving toward the evening sky. Mars slowly steps eastward.

Chart Caption – 2021, November 22: Mars is 0.2° below Zubenelgenubi before sunup.

On November 22, Mars passes the star Zubenelgenubi – “the southern claw.” Forty-five minutes before sunrise, the pair is about 5° up in the east-southeast.  Mars is nearly 0.2° below the star.  With a clear horizon, this is visible without a binocular’s optical assist, although a binocular may help with initially finding the conjunction.

Chart Caption – 2021, December 2: A binocular view of the waning crescent moon, Zubenelgenubi, and Mars.

By December 2, the crescent moon is about 7° above the Red Planet at 45 minutes before sunrise.

As the New Year approaches, Mars is higher in the sky before sunup and slowly brightens. By early March of 2022, Mars has two conjunctions with Venus as Earth’s nearest planet returns to the morning sky.

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