Tag Archives: Mars

2020, August 12: Mars, A Planetary Dance

Mars begins its planetary dance as it nears its closest approach to Earth and its opposition with the sun.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Bright Mars shines from the south-southeastern sky during the early morning hours.  It is moving eastward in a dim starfield of Pisces.

Within a month, Mars begins to retrograde. This is an illusion as our planet approaches and passes the Red Planet and all other planets, minor planets, and comets that are farther away from the sun than our home planet.

As Earth approaches Mars, the Red Planet becomes brighter, but not much larger in appearance to the human eye.  While it can double in its apparent size through a telescope, the increase is imperceptible to the human eye (unlike what is shown in the social media memes.)

Mars rises in the east before 11 p.m. and shines high in the southern sky before sunrise.  As it rises in the evening, Jupiter and Saturn are in the south.

Four planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus – are visible around 3 a.m., shortly after Venus rises, but clear horizons are necessary to see the planetary quartet together.  And the window to see all four in the morning sky is closed on August 25.

The charts in this article show the entire retrograde path of Mars along with the view of the two planets as they revolve around the sun.

On the photo above, Mars is 3.1° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc) and 1.1° below Mu Piscium (μ Psc).  It is moving eastward in a path that is taking it toward and above, Nu Piscium (ν Psc).

Mars seems to stop moving forward and begins to retrograde on September 9, below Omicron Piscium (ο Psc).  The planet then moves westward, passing ν Psc again. Earth and Mars are closest on October 6, 2020, when the Red Planet appears near μ Psc.

Earth passes between the sun and Mars on October 13, This is known as opposition.  The planet rises in the east as the sun sets in the west.  As Earth rotates, the planet appears farther west during the night, in the south around midnight, and sets in the west at sunrise.

At opposition, Mars is a few degrees to the right of μ Psc.

Mars continues to retrograde until November 13, after it passes below 80 Piscium (80 Psc). It does not move as far west as Delta Piscium (δ Psc).  As it moves eastward against the starry background, it passes below Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc) and then Pi Piscium (π Psc), as the year ends.

Use a binocular to spot the dim stars in the near Mars and watch its planetary dance with the stars.

Venus appears in the eastern morning sky to the lower left of the Red Planet.

The first sightings of Sirius by the unaided eye occur this week about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.

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Venus and the moon, June 29, 2020.

2020, October 25: Morning Star Venus, Evening Moon, Planets

The brilliant Morning Star Venus continues to step through Virgo. It is that “bright star in the eastern sky” before sunrise. This morning Venus is near Beta Virginis. In the evening sky, the gibbous moon is between Mars and Jupiter, and near the star Fomalhaut. Mars is in the east-southeast. Jupiter and Saturn are in the east-southeast.

Orion Rising, September 4, 2020

2020, October 24: Morning Star Venus, Evening Planets Mars, Jupiter, Saturn

Bright Morning Star Venus continues to sparkle in the eastern sky before sunrise. It shines from in front of the stars of Virgo. Evening planet Mars appears in the eastern sky while Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. The bright gibbous moon shines from the stars of Capricornus.

Astronomy

2020: Daylight Saving Time Commentary

In this commentary is a different idea about year-round daylight time, based on astronomical concepts for the mid-northern latitudes. Year-round or not, a different approach may yield better results.

2020, August 11: Last Call, Four Morning Planets

 

2020, August: Last call for four morning planets.
2020, August 11: The four bright planets span the morning sky from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline until August 25 when Jupiter sets as Venus rises. The moon is between Mars and Venus until August 15.

 

Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter are making their final appearance together during 2020.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

For the next several mornings, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter are visible in the sky together, spanning the celestial vault from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline.  Locate a clear spot to view Venus and Jupiter simultaneously.

The chart above shows the sky at three hours before sunrise. The planets appear as overly bright stars.  Brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast.  Mars is high in the southeast.  Bright Jupiter is low in the southwest, with Saturn to its upper left.   The moon appears in the with the planetary quartet until August 15.

Venus continues to step eastward in the stars of Orion until August 13 when it moves into the constellation Gemini.  Jupiter, at the western extreme of this morning planet parade, is retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.

The Venus – Jupiter gap continues to widen.  On August 25, the two planets are in opposite directions for us.  Jupiter sets as Venus rises, leaving three planets in the morning sky.  Saturn disappears below the southwestern horizon early next month, leaving Mars and Venus in the morning sky.

Venus in Orion, August 10, 2020
2020, August 10: Venus is 1.3° to the lower left of χ2 Ori and 2.8° to the lower right of Eta Geminorum (η Gem).

Venus and the crescent moon make a beautiful grouping on August 15.  Get your camera ready!

Mars in Pisces, August 9, 2020
2020, August 10: The moon is 12° to the left of Mars. The Red Planet is 2.4° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc) and 1.6° to the lower right of Mu Piscium (μ Psc.)

Mars continues to march eastward in Pisces.  It is nearing a point where it appears to begin to retrograde.  The photo above shows the starfield where it appears for the next several weeks.  Mars appears to pass Mu Piscium (μ Psc on the photo) and move toward Nu Piscium (ν Psc).  Use a binocular to track Mars in the starfield.

The four planets are in the sky together for a short spell during early August 2021 as Mars disappears toward its solar conjunction in the west and Jupiter enters the evening sky, with Saturn and Venus between the two other planets.

Meanwhile, this year, Jupiter and Saturn are easy to spot in the southeast after sunset.  After the giant planet pair ends its retrograde next month, Jupiter approaches and passes Saturn on December 21, 2020 in a Great Conjunction, the closest since 1623.

On the morning of August 12, view the annual Perseid meteor shower.  While a brighter moon outshines the dimmer meteors, five or six meteors are visible each hour on the prime morning.

The first sightings of Sirius by the unaided eye occur this week about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.

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The crescent moon before sunrise, July 19, 2020.

2020, October 23: Last Call for Venus and Mars in Morning Sky

Mars and Morning Star Venus are nearing their opposition so that they do not appear together in the morning sky for the remainder of 2020. In the evening sky, three planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – along with the moon, are easy to locate.

Venus in morning sky, August 12, 2020

2020, October 22: Morning Star Venus in Leo, Evening Planets and Moon

Bright Mars is visible in the western sky before sunrise. Brilliant Venus makes its last appearance in Leo for this morning apparition. In the evening sky, the crescent moon is near Jupiter and Saturn, while bright Mars begins the night in the east-southeast.

Venus and Moon, October 13, 2020

2020, October 21: Morning Star Venus, Evening Crescent Moon

Morning Star Venus and Mars are approaching the date when they do not appear in the morning sky again for the remainder of the year. The lunar crescent appears among the stars of Sagittarius, near giant planets Jupiter and Saturn as they approach their Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.

2020, August 9: Venus in Orion, Mars and Moon

Brilliant Venus and Mars shine in the morning sky.  Venus is in Orion and the gibbous moon appears near Mars.

Venus in Orion, August 8, 2020
2020, August 8: Brilliant Venus is 0.5° to the upper right of Chi2 Orionis (χ2 Ori).

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

This morning, Venus reaches its earliest rising time (2:25 a.m. CDT, Chicago, Illinois).  It rises at this time through August 17.  This morning it is in the club area of Orion.  The brilliant planet is 0.5° below Chi2 Orionis (χ2 Ori on the photo).  With a binocular, watch it move farther from the star, toward the lower left in the photo.

This time is short to see four planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus, along with the moon – until next year.  An early observation, about 30 minutes after Venus rises, is needed too see them spread across the sky from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline.

On August 15, catch the crescent moon with Venus. 

Mars and the moon in Pisces, August 9, 2020
2020, August 9: Mars is 1.2° to the upper left of the gibbous moon.

Mars and the moon are together this morning in the constellation Pisces.  The lunar orb is 1.2° to the lower left of the Red Planet.  Without a telescope, the bright planets resemble overly bright stars.  Through a telescope, the planets’ details are observed.

Mars is marching eastward.  In about a month, Mars reverses its direction and starts to retrograde, an illusion caused by our faster moving world overtaking the slower moving Mars.

On the morning of August 12, view the annual Perseid meteor shower.  While a brighter moon outshines the dimmer meteors, five or six meteors are visible each hour on the prime morning.

The first sightings of Sirius by the unaided eye occur this week about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.

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2020, August 5: Brilliant Venus Tours Orion, Mars in Pisces

Venus in Orion, August 5, 2020
2020, August 5: Venus is 1.1° to the upper right of the star Chi1 Orionis (χ1 Ori) and 3.3° below Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau), the Southern Horn of Taurus.

Venus and Mars shine from the morning sky before sunrise. Venus moves into Orion, while Mars marches eastward in Pisces.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

This morning – over 90 minutes before sunrise – brilliant Venus is on its first day of eight days touring the northern reaches of Orion, in the Hunter’s club.  This morning Venus is 1.1° to the upper right of the star Chi1 Orionis (χ1 Ori on the photo) and 3.3° below Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau), the Southern Horn of Taurus.  With a binocular watch Venus pass χ1 Ori and move toward Chi2 Orionis (χ2 Ori).

Through a telescope the planet’s is a thick morning crescent phase that is slightly less than half full.

Mars in Pisces, August 5, 2020
2020, August 5: Mars is 0.5° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc) and 3.4° to the lower right of Mu Piscium (μ Psc).

Farther westward, Mars is high in the south-southeast, marching through the dim stars of Pisces.  This morning it is 0.5° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc) and 3.4° to the lower right of Mu Piscium (μ Psc).

The bright moon appears farther west in this morning sky.  The moon appears with Mars on the evening of August 8 and morning of August 9.

Earth passes between Mars and the sun on October 13, 2020.

At this hour Jupiter and Saturn are below the horizon in the southwest.  In the hours following sunset, look for them in the southern sky.

Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.

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Jupiter and Saturn in Sagittarius, October 4, 2020.

2020, October 20: Morning Star Venus, Evening Lunar Crescent

Brilliant Morning Star Venus shines from the east-southeast before sunrise. It is in front of the stars of Leo. In the evening, the lunar crescent is in the southwest, not far from Jupiter and Saturn that are approaching their Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. Bright Mars shines from the evening’s eastern sky.

Moon in Taurus, October 7, 2020

2020, October 19: Arcturus Helical Rising, 4 Planets

Arcturus returns to the morning sky – its helical rising. Morning Star Venus and Mars are visible before sunrise. Evening planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible after sunset.

The crescent moon, September 15, 2020

2020, October 18: Crescent Moon in West

The crescent moon is low in the west about 30 minutes after sunset near the star Antares. Four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible during the night.

2020, August 4: Jupiter, Saturn Bright Evening Stars

 

Jupiter and Saturn, August 4, 2020
2020, August 4: About 70 minutes after sunset, Jupiter is 0.8° to the lower right of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr) and 3.6° to the lower left of Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr). Meanwhile, Saturn is 2.8° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).

Look for bright Jupiter and Saturn in the southeast during the hours following sunset.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southeastern sky during the hours following sunset. They appear as overly bright stars.  Jupiter is to the upper right of dimmer Saturn. This evening they are 7.8° apart.  The pair continues to retrograde in eastern Sagittarius as the gap between them grows. 

Retrograde is an illusion that appears when Earth overtakes, passes, and moves away from planets that revolve around the sun farther from our central star than our home planet.  Normally, planets appear to move eastward when compared to the starry background.  While they rise in the east and set in the west during a 24-hour period from Earth’s rotation, these planets seem to move eastward compared to the stars. This occurs because of the mutual revolution of Earth and the planets around the sun.

Earth passed Jupiter on July 13 and Saturn a week later.  This giant planet duo retrogrades until next month.  When they resume their eastward motion, Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn on December 21, 2020 in what is known as a Great Conjunction.

Jupiter revolves around the sun in 11.8 years and Saturn in 29.5 years.  Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn in our sky every 19.6 years.  While the great conjunction is not rare, it occurs at intervals of once every generation.  This year’s conjunction is the closest passing of the two planets since 1623.

Each night at the same hour Jupiter and Saturn are farther westward in the sky.  The December conjunction occurs in the southwest sky.

If you’re up early enough tomorrow morning, catch Jupiter and Saturn before they set at 4 a.m.  At that hour bright Mars is in the southeast and brilliant Venus is in the east.

Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.

2020, August 4: Four Morning Planets, Bright Moon

Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter shine from the morning sky.  The morning planet parade breaks apart.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

About two hours before sunrise, brilliant Venus gleams from the eastern sky.  It is near the Southern Horn of Taurus the Bull, known as Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau on the photo). 

For over a month, Venus has been moving eastward in Taurus.  Tomorrow, Venus moves into the club region of Orion.  Bellatrix, a shoulder of Orion, is visible in the photo above.

Mars in Pisces, August 4, 2020
2020, August 4: Shining from the dim stars of Pisces, Mars is is 0.3° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc on the photo) and 3.7° to the lower right of Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc).

About an hour earlier, with a bright moon in the sky and only four hours past its official Full phase, Mars shines from the dim starfield of Pisces. It continues to march eastward along the solar system’s plane.  Use a binocular to track Mars through the starfield, especially with the bright moon in the sky for the next several mornings.

Next month, the Red Planet starts to retrograde.  Mars appears to move westward compared to the stars.  On October 13, 2020, Earth passes between the planet and the sun.  Mars and the sun are in opposite directions from Earth.  This is known as opposition.  The planet rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise.  Around opposition, Mars is closest to Earth and appears at its brightest.  This occurs a week before opposition.

This morning Mars is 0.3° to the upper left of 89 Piscium (89 Psc on the photo) and 3.7° to the lower right of Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc).

Jupiter and Saturn, August 4, 2020
2020, August 4: Appearing low in the southwest, Jupiter and Saturn are disappearing from the early morning sky. This morning, Saturn is 7.8° to the upper left of Jupiter.

Jupiter and Saturn are appearing very low in the sky at this hour.  Better views occur when the planets are in the evening sky.  Ninety minutes after sunset, they are shining from low in the southeastern sky,

Both planets are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.  They reverse their courses next month.  As the year closes, Jupiter passes Saturn on December 21, 2020, in a Great Conjunction.

Here is a daily summary about the planets during August.

 

2020, July 28: Jupiter and Saturn Lead July’s Morning Planet Parade

Jupiter and Saturn, July 28, 2020
2020, July 28: Jupiter is 0.6° to the left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr), while Saturn is 3.3° to the upper left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).

Jupiter and Saturn lead Mars and Venus during late July’s morning planet parade.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Four planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus – are strung along an arc in the morning sky.  They appear along the solar system’s plane that astronomers call the ecliptic. During the pre-sunrise hours of late July, the imaginary line stretches from the southwest skyline to the east-northeast horizon.

Bright Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southwest in front of the stars of eastern Sagittarius.  They are moving westward – retrograding – compared to the starry background.  While they rise in the east before sunset and appear low in the southeast during evening hours from Earth’s rotation, they are moving westward compared to the distant stars.  This westward movement compared to the stars is an illusion when Earth overtakes, passes, and moves away from them.

Jupiter and Saturn are 7.5° apart.  In another month, they are about another degree apart. 

In September, Jupiter and Saturn begin moving eastward again.  Jupiter inches toward Saturn and passes it in a Great Conjunction, December 21, 2020.  This is the closest conjunction of the two planets since 1623.  A Jupiter – Saturn conjunction occurs every 19.6 years.

Through a binocular check their positions each clear morning compared to the stars.  Jupiter is 0.6° to the left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr), while Saturn is 3.3° to the upper left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).  Watch Jupiter pass 50 Sgr and Saturn approach 56 Sgr.

Mars in Pisces, July 28, 2020
2020, July 28: Mars is 5.1° to the upper left of 20 Ceti (20 Cet) and 5.0° below Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc).

Farther east, Mars is that “bright star” in the southeast.  It is among the dim stars of Pisces.  On the photo above, it is moving into the starfield where it retrogrades and passes opposition (October 13, 2020).  This morning the Red Planet is 5.1° to the upper left of 20 Ceti (20 Cet) and 5.0° below Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc).  As with Jupiter and Saturn, watch Mars move eastward in the starfield through a binocular.

Venus in Taurus, July 28, 2020
2020, July 28: Venus, in the constellation Taurus, is 4.3° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau), the Southern Horn of the Bull.

The brilliant Morning Star Venus is in the eastern sky.  It is moving eastward among the stars of Taurus.  This morning it is 4.3° to the upper right of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau), the Southern Horn of the Bull.  The bright star Aldebaran, the Bull’s Eye, and two star clusters (Hyades and Pleiades) appear above the bright planet.

Here are two daily summaries about the planets during July and August.

2020, July 26: A Morning Planetary Quartet

Jupiter and Saturn. July 26, 2020
2020, July 26: Bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest during morning hours, they are 7.3° apart. Jupiter is 0.7° to the left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr). Saturn is 3.4° to the upper left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is visible.

Four bright morning planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – span the sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – span the morning sky from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline.

During the predawn hours, bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest.  They appear among the stars of eastern Sagittarius. These giant planets are 7.3° apart.  Look at Jupiter with a binocular.  It’s possible to see some of its four bright Galilean moons, first observed in Galileo’s telescope during the 17th century.  This morning Ganymede is visible in the photo above.

Jupiter passes Saturn in a Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.

Look for Jupiter and Saturn in the southeast about an hour after sunset, as they clear the local trees, houses, and buildings.  During the night, they appear to move westward.

Mars is Cetus, July 26, 2020.
2020, July 26: Mars, high in the southeast, is 4.3° to the upper left of 20 Ceti (20 Cet) and 5.3° to the lower right of Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc).

During the morning hours, Mars is high in the southeast, among the stars of Cetus.  Tomorrow it moves into Pisces.  The stars identified on the accompanying photo show the dim star field where the Red Planet passes opposition, October 13, 2020.

Venus in east, July 26, 2020.
2020, July 26: In Taurus, brilliant Venus is morning eastward toward Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau). This morning Venus is 5.8° to the upper right of the star.

Brilliant Venus is in the eastern sky.  It is in front of the stars of Taurus the Bull.  Watch it move toward and pass Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau), the Southern Horn of the Bull, on the photo, during the next several mornings.  This morning Venus is 5.8° to the upper right of the star.

Notice that Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster make a sideways “V” that represents the head of the Bull.  The Pleiades star cluster is higher in the sky, and is said to be riding on the Bull’s back.

Here are more about the planets during July and August.

2020, July 24: Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Morning Planetary Motion

Jupiter and Saturn in Sagittarius, July 24, 2020
2020, July 24: Bright Jupiter and Saturn appear in the southwest in the hours before bright morning twilight brightens the sky. This morning Jupiter is 0.9° to the left of the star 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr on the photo above) and 4.8° to the upper left of Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr). Saturn is 3.5° to the upper left of 56 Sgr and 4.6° to the lower right of σ Cap.

Three bright planets – Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn – shine from the southern skies during the overnight hours.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Jupiter and Saturn rise into the southeastern sky as the sky darkens each evening.  Mars rises before midnight, and it is higher in the sky after midnight.

By 3 a.m. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest and Mars is high in the southeast.

Bright Jupiter and Saturn are near each other, 7.3° apart.  In the photo above, Jupiter and Saturn are in eastern Sagittarius.  The stars of the distant constellation form the backdrop for the moving planets.

Normally, the planets move eastward compared to the starry background.  About each year, our faster moving planet approaches Jupiter and Saturn. These planets appear to stop moving eastward and begin to move westward compared to the stars.  This is known as retrograde motion.  Earth then passes between Jupiter and the sun, then Saturn and the sun.  This is known as opposition.  As Earth moves away the planets continue to appear to move backwards, then they start their forward motion again.

For now, Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding, and Jupiter is getting farther from Saturn.  By the end of August, Jupiter is about 1° farther away from Saturn than it is this morning.  One degree is about the apparent size of two full moons.

Jupiter’s retrograde ends September 12. Even as Jupiter resumes its eastward motion, Saturn continues to retrograde.  Saturn’s retrograde ends September 28.  Jupiter then closes in on Saturn for a Great Conjunction, December 21, 2020.

Use a binocular to watch the planets move against the stars. This morning Jupiter is 0.9° to the left of the star 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr on the photo above) and 4.8° to the upper left of Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr).  Observe that Jupiter passes 50 Sgr and moves closer to π Sgr during the next month.

Meanwhile, Saturn’s retrograde puts it 3.5° to the upper left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr) and 4.6° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).  The Ringed Wonder appears to move closer to 56 Sgr and farther from σ Cap during the next month.

Mars in Cetus, July 24, 2020
2020, July: Bright Mars in the southeast among the stars of Cetus near the Pisces-Cetus border. This morning Mars is 5.6° to the lower right of ε Psc, and 3.6° to the upper left of 20 Cet.

Farther east, Mars is marching eastward, over halfway up in the southeast at this hour.  The Red Planet is in front of the stars of Cetus.  In three mornings, it moves back into Pisces.

About every two years, Earth approaches and passes between the sun and Mars.  This year opposition occurs on October 13, 2020. Mars begins to retrograde on September 9, 2020.  The planet is moving eastward, but its eastward progress slows in about three weeks.

Mars is well passed 20 Ceti (20 Cet on the photo) and heading toward a starfield in Pisces that includes Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc on the photo), 89 Piscium (89 Psc), Mu Piscium (μ Psc), Nu Piscium (ν Psc), and Omicron Piscium (ο Psc).  Including Epsilon Piscium (ε Psc) and Delta Piscium (δ Psc), Mars’ motion during the next month is within the dim starfield displayed on the photo.

This morning Mars is 5.6° to the lower right of ε Psc, and 3.6° to the upper left of 20 Cet.  Each clear morning, observe Mars’ place among the stars with binocular.

Here’s more about the planets during July.

2020, July 23: 5 Planets, Last Call

Mercury, Venus, July 23, 2020
2020, July 23: Venus and Mercury shine from the eastern sky during bright morning twilight. Mercury is nearly 24° to the lower left of Venus.

Five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible together before the morning planet parade begins to break up.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Five planets arch across the clear sky this morning.  For the next few mornings during twilight and before Jupiter sets, view five planets that span the sky from the east-northeast skyline to the southwest horizon.

Jupiter and Saturn, July 23, 2020
2020, July 23: Jupiter is 7.2° to the lower right of Saturn. Jupiter is 1.0° to the upper left of 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr, m = 5.6), while Saturn is 4.5° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap, m = 5.2).

Bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest among the stars of eastern Sagittarius.  They are retrograding – moving west – compared to the starry background.  This is an illusion as our planet moves away from this giant planet pair.  They continue to retrograde until September.  This morning the Jupiter – Saturn gap is 7.2°.  The planets continue to separate until their retrograde motion ends.

During the fall months, Jupiter inches up and catches the Ringed Wonder on December 21, 2020 for a Great Conjunction.  This is the closest conjunction of the two planets since 1623.

Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the southeast as the sky darkens each evening.  Use a binocular to watch them continue to move westward compared to the stars identified in the photo above.  The stars, with their astronomical names Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap on the photo), 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr), 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr) and Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr), make the background to watch the planets.  During the next month, the planet pair is lower in the southwestern sky during early morning hours and higher in the eastern sky during evening hours.

In the photo above three of Jupiter’s four largest satellites are visible.  They can be seen with a binocular, depending on their positions when they are viewed.

Mars in Cetus, July 23, 2020
2020, July 23: Mars, in the southeastern sky, moves eastward among the stars of Cetus. It is 3.1° to the upper left of 20 Ceti (20 Cet, m = 4.8). It is moving eastward toward the region of Pisces where its retrograde motion begins.

Mars is farther east, over halfway up in the southeast among the stars of the constellation Cetus.  Mars is well passed 20 Ceti (20 Cet on the photo) and heading toward a starfield in Pisces that includes Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc on the photo), 89 Piscium (89 Psc), Mu Piscium (μ Psc), Nu Piscium (ν Psc), and Omicron Piscium (ο Psc).

Mars begins its retrograde motion during early September near the stars on the left side of the starfield in the photo.  Use a binocular to watch the Red Planet move toward them during the next few weeks.  The planet rises at about 11:30 p.m. local time and its easier to see in the east an hour later.

Venus and Taurus, July 23, 2020
2020, July 23: Brilliant Venus, among the stars of Taurus, is 7.3° to the lower left of Aldebaran. The Hyades star cluster and Pleiades star cluster appear nearby.

Meanwhile in the eastern sky, brilliant Venus is in Taurus, 7.3° to the lower left of Aldebaran, the constellation’s brightest star.  The planet continues moving eastward and away from Aldebaran.

Together, Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster make a “V” shape, sideways when it is in the eastern sky, to identify the head of the Bull.  The Pleiades star cluster, higher in the sky, is riding on the Bull’s back.

Elusive Mercury comes into view as Jupiter is low in the southwest.  It is to the lower left of Venus in the brighter glow of morning twilight.

In a few mornings, Jupiter sets before Mercury comes into full view, leaving four planets.  Look early enough in the morning to see Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus.  A view later during brighter morning twilight provides a view of Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Mercury.

Here’s more about the planets during July.