2020, March: Morning Planet Parade

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn in morning sky during March 2020

Highlights for the month:

For those readers wanting more details, click Semi-technical daily notes for the month

The three bright outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars – shine in the southeastern sky before sunrise.  Look about one hour before sunrise.

On the chart above, the planets span nearly 19°.  Jupiter is the brightest planet in the group.  Saturn is to the lower left, near the horizon.  Mars, dimmer than Saturn, appears to the upper Jupiter’s upper left.

The charts on this page identify two stars that can be used to note how the planets are moving.  The stars are not as bright as the planets, but they make an unmoving background to watch the eastward motion of the planets.

Each morning the scene changes with Mars getting closer to Jupiter.  Jupiter slowly ambles toward Saturn for the Great Conjunction that occurs in December 2020.

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, March 15, 2020

On March 15, Jupiter is over 15° up in the southeast. The Red Planet, only 2.7° to Jupiter’s upper right, continues to close the gap on the Giant Planet. Saturn is 7.4° to Jupiter’s lower left. The three planets span 10.1° this morning.

2020, February: Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in a Morning Planet Parade

February Highlights:

  • Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky during early February 2020
  • Moon Eclipses Mars on February 18
  • Saturn joins Jupiter and Mars later in the month
  • Moon passes Jupiter (Feb 19) and Saturn (Feb 20)


Mars and Jupiter in morning sky

As Jupiter and Saturn head toward their once every generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020, they appear higher in the morning sky during February.

During February 2020, Jupiter becomes easier to see in the morning sky with dimmer Mars.  The Red Planet is to the lower left of the star Antares.  The chart above shows the sky on February 5.  A more detailed note for the morning:

  • February 5: Saturn rises at Nautical Twilight. One hour before sunrise, Mars, over 17° up in the southeast, is 0.9° to the upper left of 44 Ophiuchi (44 Oph, m = 4.2).  Look for Jupiter low in the southeast, about 5° up in the sky.

Moon occults Mars

The moon moves close to the planets after mid-month.  As sunrise approaches in the Central Time Zone, the moon moves near Mars.  Just after sunrise from the Chicago area, the moon covers (occults) Mars.  An occultation is a type of eclipse that does not involve the sun.  Here’s the detailed note:

  • February 18: One hour before sunrise, the crescent moon (24.6 days past the New phase, 24% illuminated), about 17° up in the southeast, is 0.4° to the right of Mars. If you look earlier, when the moon is lower in the darker sky, the lunar crescent is between M8 and M20. This is clearly a bit of a stretch to have a good view of the nebulae, the moon, and Mars. The objects’ low altitudes and the approaching twilight make this a challenge. Notice that Mars is 1.5° to the upper right of 1 Sagittarii (1 Sgr, m =4.9). Watch it approach and pass the star during the next few mornings. Jupiter is to the lower left of the Moon – Mars pair, nearly 11° up in the southeast. Saturn is to the lower left of Jupiter, likely lost behind terrestrial obstructions. As sunrise approaches, the crescent moon inches toward Mars. If you can track Mars into a brighter sky, the moon occults it a few minutes after 6 a.m. CST. Observers in the Western U.S. see the moon occult Mars in a darker sky.

As the mornings progress Saturn appears higher in the sky and easier to see.

Jupiter, moon, and Saturn

The moon passes Jupiter on February 19 and Saturn the following morning.  Find a location with a clear horizon to the southeast.  On February 19, the moon is to the right of Jupiter.  The next morning the lunar crescent to the lower right of Saturn Here are detailed notes for those mornings:

  • February 19: One hour before sunrise, the old moon (25.6d, 16%) is 10° up in the southeast. It is 4.0° to the right of bright Jupiter. The planet is 1.7° to the lower left of Pi Sagittarii. Saturn is over 9° to the lower left of Jupiter. Dimmer Mars, over 16° up in the south-southeast, is nearly 12° to the upper right of the thin lunar crescent. The planet is 0.8° to the upper right of 1 Sagittarii. Watch Mars approach Kaus Borealis (λ Sgr, m =2.8), the star at the top of the lid of the Teapot of Sagittarius. This morning Mars is nearly 5° to the upper right of the star.
  • February 20: One hour before sunrise, Mars is over 16° in altitude in the south-southeast. With a binocular observe that it is 0.2° to the upper right of 1 Sagittarii. This morning Mars is 4.2° to the upper right of Kaus Borealis. Bright Jupiter, 10° up in the southeast, is nearly 15° to the lower left of the Red Planet. The Giant Planet is 1.9° to the lower left of Pi Sagittarii. About fifteen minutes later, the moon (26.6d, 9%) is 2.6° to the right of Saturn and 9.0° to the lower left of Jupiter. Saturn is over 7° up in the southeast.

For those wanting to read the detailed notes for each day, here is my summary for February 2020.

Happy Observing

2020, February: Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Moon

Venus Shines in Southwestern sky
2020, January 19: Venus is visible in the southwest about 40 minutes after sunset. The planet is now setting over 3 hours after sunset.

Brilliant Venus sparkles in the western sky after sunset.  It is so bright that Earth’s neighbor is often mistaken for a passing airplane.  Find Venus throughout February during the early evening hours.

The speedy planet Mercury pops into the evening sky after sunset for its best appearance of 2020.  As Mercury appears higher in the sky, it dims.  Find a clear horizon in the west-southwest and begin looking at about 45 minutes after sunset. It appears as a bright star.  Try to catch it early in its appearance and look for it each evening as it appears higher in the sky, but it is dimmer nearly every evening.  First attempt to look for it with a binocular; then look without optical help.

By mid-month, you’ll need a binocular to find it in the sky, as it much dimmer.

Venus appears high above Mercury.

Venus and Moon February 2020

The moon joins Venus late in the month.  On February 25, find a clear western horizon about 1 hour after sunset.  Each evening the moon is higher in the sky than the previous evening.

The best evening is on February 27, when the moon and Venus seem to appear in a scene of an artist.  Both are nearly at the same altitude above the horizon.  The moon is about 7° to the left of Venus.

You can capture “earthshine” on the night portion of the moon with a tripod-mounted camera.  Exposures ranging from 1 to 10 seconds reveal that the night is gently illuminated by sunlight reflected from Earth.

Here are more details about the moon’s appearance:

  • February 24: The moon returns to the evening sky. Thirty minutes after sunset, the moon (1.4 days past New, 2% illuminated) is nearly 6° up in the west-southwest. It is over 30° below brilliant Venus (m = −4.3).
  • February 25: In the evening sky, one hour after sunset, the moon (2.4d, 5%), over 10° in altitude in the west-southwest, is nearly 20° below Venus.
  • February 26: The moon is at apogee at 5:34 a.m. CST, 252,449 miles away. One hour after sunset, the moon (3.4d, 10%) is over 20° in altitude in the west-southwest. The lunar crescent is about 10° below brilliant Venus.
  • February 27:  In the evening, Venus and the moon (4.4d, 16%) are in a classic artist’s scene. Brilliant Venus is 6.7° to the right of the lunar crescent. Photograph the pair with a tripod-mounted camera. Vary exposures from 1-10 seconds to capture earthshine on the night portion of the moon.
  • February 28:  One hour after sunset, the waxing crescent moon (5.4d, 24%) is over 40° in altitude above the west-southwest horizon. It is nearly 15° to the upper left of brilliant Venus.
  • February 29: Happy Leap Day! In the evening, about one hour after sunset, the thick crescent moon (6.4d, 33%) is over 50° up in the southwest. Brilliant Venus is over 30° up in the west-southwest.

Here are my daily notes for February:

Happy Observing!

2020, January 21: Mars, Moon, and Antares

Mars, Moon and Anatres January 21, 2020

During a cold, clear morning in the Chicago area, the planet Mars is about 5 degrees to the upper left of the star Antares, the Red Planet’s rival.  The star is about the same color and brightness as Mars when the planet passes by about every 2 years.

This morning the old moon (overexposed in the image above) appears to the lower left of the Mars-Antares pair.  Notice that the night portion of the moon is gently illuminated by the sunlight reflected from our planet.

See more about where to locate Mars.