Tag: Mercury

2020, June: Solstice and Bright Morning Planets

Day Lilly
June 20: The flowers celebrate the beginning of summer.

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Link to the summary of the moon and planets in the morning sky.

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June’s Planet Images

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

(Important Note:  These daily notes are written for Chicago, Illinois.  Observers should make any necessary adjustments for longitude differences, time zone corrections, and latitude differences.)

At the beginning of twilight (3:10 a.m. CDT), the Scorpius and Sagittarius section of the sky is at its full glory at the sky’s meridian. From the Scorpion’s classic pincers (Libra) in the southwest, and back to the heart (Antares) that leads us to the stinger that is at the imaginary celestial divider that separates the rising stars from the setting stars. Sagittarius is just east of the meridian. Its famous Teapot shape is in full view with the nebulae of the Milky Way above its spout. At this hour, bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast to the east of the Teapot. The splendor of the Milky Way is muted by the gibbous moon’s light that is low in the west in Virgo. Spica is in the west-southwest with Arcturus high in the west. The Big Dipper is low in the northwest with its Pointers reliably aiming northward. Leo leans toward the western horizon. Its Sickle is punctuated by regal Regulus. Facing east, we see that the Summer Triangle – Vega, Deneb, and Altair – is high in the sky. If it were not for the moon’s interfering light, we could trace the Milky Way from the south past Cygnus and Deneb to the north-northeast horizon with Perseus and Cassiopeia. Below the Summer Triangle, Pegasus and Andromeda come into view. If you’re impatient to see the Great Andromeda Spiral, then you can find it about 20° up in the northeast. You’ll need to fight the light of the bright moon. On June 1st, the sun’s arc carries it across the sky in a few minutes longer than 15 hours. Twilight totals about 4.25 hours that is divided between morning and evening. Darkness, the interval of time when the sky is completely dark, lasts only 4.75 hours. At the end of twilight (10:30 p.m. CDT), golden-orange Arcturus is over two-thirds of the way up in the sky at the meridian. On June 1st, the moon is above Spica, about 10° west of the meridian. Back in the eastern sky, Antares is low in the southeast. The Summer Triangle is above the horizon in the east, signaling that summer’s start is near. Along the horizon toward the north, Cassiopeia is low in the sky, east of the meridian. The three remaining stars of winter are in the northwest – Capella, Castor and Pollux. They disappear from the evening sky this month, but Capella is back in the sky before sunrise.

Three bright planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are scattered across the sky from southeast to south before sunrise. Jupiter and Saturn continue to retrograde as Jupiter slowly backs away from Saturn. Brilliant Venus begins its morning show before mid-month. Don’t miss the close grouping of Venus and the crescent moon on June 19. After sunset, Mercury is completing its evening apparition, where it appeared with Venus, the moon, and Elnath during May.

  • June 1: Jupiter (m = −2.6) and Saturn (m = 0.4) rise before midnight and they are very low in the east-southeast as the new day begins. Both planets are retrograding. Mars (m = 0.0) rises at 1:40 a.m. CDT. Jupiter is in eastern Sagittarius, and Saturn appears in front of the stars of western Capricornus. One hour before sunrise, the Bright Outer Planets – Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – span nearly 47°. Jupiter, over 27° up in the south, is 4.8° to the lower right of Saturn. Jupiter appears west of the meridian at this time interval. Saturn appears west of that line in a few mornings. Among the stars, Jupiter is 2.2° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr, m = 4.8). Saturn is 1.4° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap, m = 5.2). Farther east, Mars is over 25° in altitude in the southeast. Among the stars, Mars is 2.2° to the lower left of Lambda Aqaurii (λ Aqr, m = 4.8). Watch the movement of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in their starry backgrounds with a binocular. The sun is in the sky for a few minutes longer than 15 hours. Darkness – the time between the end of evening twilight and the start of morning twilight – is 30 minutes longer than the sum of the length of morning twilight and evening twilight. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 0.3) is nearly 11° in altitude in the west-northwest. Mercury dims as its appearance continues. Use a binocular to find and follow the speedy planet during the next several evenings. As the sky darkens further, the moon (10.4 days past the New phase and 82% illuminated), nearly halfway up in the sky in the south, is 6.6° above Spica (α Vir, m = 2.0).
  • June 2: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is over 27° up in the south and west of the meridian. Saturn is 4.8° to the upper left of Jupiter. Both planets are retrograding. In particular, note Jupiter’s movement relative to 56 Sgr. Jupiter is 2.2° to the lower left of that star. Farther east, Mars is nearly 26° up in the southeast, 2.6° to the lower left of λ Aqr and 4.0° to the lower right of Phi Aquarii (φ Aqr, m =4.2). Use a binocular to see the planets among the stars. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 0.4) is nearly 11° in altitude in the west-northwest. Fifteen minutes later, the bright moon (11.4d, 90%) is 9.2° to the upper right of Zubenelgenubi (α Lib, m = 2.8). The moon is at perigee at 10:38 p.m. CDT. It is 226,406 miles away.
  • June 3: Mars (m = −0.1) is 26° up in the southeast, one hour before sunrise. In the starfield, it is 3.1° to the lower left of λ Aqr and 3.4° to the lower right of φ Aqr. Farther west, bright Jupiter is over 27° up in the south, west of the meridian. Saturn is 4.9° to the upper left of Jupiter. Tomorrow morning, Saturn is west of the meridian at this time interval. Venus is at inferior conjunction at 12:44 p.m. CDT. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 0.5) is less than 11° up in the west-northwest. Use a binocular to track Mercury during this apparition as it is dimmer each evening. As the sky darkens further, the nearly Full Moon (12.4d, 96%) is 6.2° below Zubeneschamali (β Lib, m = 2.6). You may have to block the moon’s light or use a binocular to see the starfield.
  • June 4: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is 27.0° up in the south, west of the meridian. It is 4.9° to the lower right of Saturn, now west of the meridian at this time interval before sunrise. Jupiter is 2.1° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Farther east, Mars is over 26° up in the southeast, 2.8° to the lower right of φ Aqr. Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation (23.6°) at 8:07 a.m. CDT. Forty-five minutes after sunset, find Mercury (m = 0.6) over 10° up in the west-northwest. Use a binocular. As the sky darkens further, the moon (13.4d, 99%), over 16° up in the southeast, is 7.1° above Antares (α Sco, m = 1.0).
  • June 5: One hour before sunrise, the moon (13.6d, 100%) – 8.0° up in the southwest – is to the upper right of Antares. The star is near the horizon, less than 4° in altitude. Locate a clear horizon to see it. Farther east in the southern sky, bright Jupiter is 4.9° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 2.0° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, while Saturn is 1.6° to the lower right of σ Cap. In the southeast, Mars is nearly 27° up in the sky. It has a higher altitude than Jupiter, but lower than Saturn, at this time interval. In the starfield, the Red Planet is 2.3° to the lower right of φ Aqr. Fomalhaut (α PsA, m = 1.2) – 10° up in the south-southeast – is becoming easier to see at this time interval. The star is nearly 22° to the lower right of Mars. The moon reaches its Full phase at 2:12 p.m. CDT. A penumbral lunar eclipse is visible in parts of Australia, southern Asia, eastern Europe, and eastern Africa. Clearly nothing for us to observe at our longitude. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 0.7) is over 10° up in the west-northwest. Two hours after sunset (approximately 10:30 p.m. CDT), the moon (14.4d, 100%) is over 14° up in the southeast.
  • June 6: One hour before sunrise, the bright moon (14.6d, 100%) is over 13° up in the southwest. Farther east, Jupiter is less than 27° up in the south. It is 4.9° to the lower right of Saturn and 2.0° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Use a binocular to see the starfield. Farther east, Mars – over 27° up in the southeast – is 1.8° to the lower right of φ Aqr and 1.1° to the upper right of Chi Aquarii (χ Aqr, m = 4.9). A binocular helps see the dimmer stars with Mars, especially with the bright moon in the sky. In the evening, one hour after sunset, Mercury (m = 0.8) is less than 10° up in the west-northwest. Three hours after sunset (about 11:30 p.m. CDT), the moon (15.4d, 97%) is nearly 13° up in the southeast, 1.4° to the upper right of Kaus Borealis (λ Sgr, m = 2.8), the star at the top of the lid of the Teapot of Sagittarius. Block the moon’s glare or use a binocular to see the star.
  • June 7: One hour before sunrise, the moon (15.6d, 97%) – over 18° up in the south-southwest – is 0.9° to the upper left of Kaus Borealis. In the south, Jupiter is over 26° in altitude. Saturn is 5.0° to the upper left of Jupiter, as both planets continue to retrograde. Farther eastward along the ecliptic, Mars is nearly 28° up in the southeast, nearly midway from φ Aqr to χ Aqr. It is about 1.5° from each star. After sunset, Mercury (m = 0.9) is nearly 10° up in the west-northwest. Use a binocular to see it.
Jupiter, Saturn, Moon, June 8, 2020.
2020, June 8: The moon is 5.8° to the lower right of Jupiter. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 5.0°.
  • June 8: One hour before sunrise, the moon (16.6d, 92%) – about 22° up in the south-southwest – is 5.8° to the lower right of bright Jupiter. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 5.0°. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.9° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Farther east, Mars – over 28° up in the southeast – is 1.5° below φ Aqr and 0.3° to the upper left of χ Aqr. Forty-five minutes after sunset, dimming Mercury (m = 1.0) is over 9° up in the west-northwest. Procyon (α CMi, m = 0.4) is over 5° up in the west. It is making its last appearance at this time interval. Can you find it without optical assistance? This month let’s look for my favorite five double stars rather than deep sky objects. All the stars on the list are brighter stars and can be used to introduce new observers to the sky’s wonders. First, Mizar (ζ UMa, m = 2.2) and Alcor (80 UMa, m = 4.0) are located at the bend of the Big Dipper. The group is high in the northwest at the end of evening twilight. The two stars are not connected, but they appear along the same line of sight. While the Big Dipper never sets at our latitude, the group is high in the sky at this season; so, I list it with my warmer weather double stars to observe. For some civilizations (cited in Burnham’s Celestial Handbook), the pair was used as a test of eyesight. Those persons with sharp eyes could easily see both stars. They are separated by nearly 0.2°. That is twice the separation of the upcoming Jupiter – Saturn Great Conjunction in December. Alone, Mizar is a double star. The 4th magnitude component is only 14” away from the brighter star. Burnham reports that Mizar was the first double star observed. Star color of doubles provides an opportunity to test our visual acuity. Burnham writes that the dimmer companion is sometimes reported as “pale emerald” (p. 1953) in color. What do you see? Alcor by itself is a double, but the second star is not easily observed. The 8th magnitude red dwarf is only 1” away from the brighter star. The second star on my list is Gamma Virginis (γ Vir, m = 3.4). The star is over 14° west of Spica. Only about 3° north of the ecliptic, the moon frequently appears near the star. The companion is nearly the same brightness and about 4” from the main star, and the pair has nearly the same color. The companion revolves around the main star in about 170 years. The third star is Beta Scorpius (β Sco, m = 2.5). The companion is 5th magnitude and is nearly 14” away. Like Mizar’s companion, β Sco’s companion has been reported to be green. My experience is that most observers do not see the color. It’s a good conversation starter at a telescope session. The fourth star is Epsilon Lyrae (ε Lyr, m = 4.6). This famous double makes a triangle with Vega and Zeta Lyrae (ζ Lyr, m = 4.3). The “Double-double” is unimpressive to many beginners. Through a binocular or a finder, the first double appears. These stars are 3.5’ apart. Each of these stars resolves into double stars. Depending on the sky’s clarity and the collimation of my telescope, I may be able to resolve each brighter star. The final star on the list is Alberio (β Cyg, m = 3.0). It marks the nose of Cygnus. It is nearly midway from Vega to Altair. On my list this is the finest double in the sky. The pair has a breath-taking color difference, described as topaz and sapphire. The separation is over 30”. This is an exemplary double star to show to a beginning observer or just to revisit!
Moon to the lower left of Saturn, June 9, 2020
2020, June 9: One hour before sunrise the gibbous moon is 4.8° to the lower left of Saturn.
  • June 9: One hour before sunrise, Mars – over 28° up in the southeast – has a higher altitude than Saturn at this time interval. Saturn is in the south about 5° west of the meridian and 5.0° to the upper left of bright Jupiter. The moon (17.6d, 85%) is 4.8° to the lower left of Saturn. In the starfield, Mars is 1.7° to the lower left of φ Aqr and 0.9° to the left of χ Aqr. Jupiter is 1.9° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 1.1) is over 8° up in the west-northwest.
  • June 10: Mars rises at 1:20 a.m. CDT. One hour before sunrise, the moon (18.6d, 77%) is over 27° up in the south-southeast. Bright Jupiter is at about the same altitude in the south-southwest, 5.1° to the lower right of Saturn (m = 0.3). In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.8° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, and Saturn is 1.7° to the lower right of σ Cap. Farther east, Mars is nearly 29° up in the southeast. Among the stars, the Red Planet is 2.1° to the lower left of φ Aqr and 1.5° to the left of χ Aqr. A binocular helps locate the three planets in their star fields. Mars is heading into a much dimmer starfield with 6th and 7th magnitude stars that has Neptune (m = 7.9). Venus rises at Civil Twilight, 32 minutes before sunrise. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 1.2) is over 8° in altitude in the west-northwest. Jupiter rises at 10:40 p.m. CDT; Saturn follows about 20 minutes later.
  • June 11: In ecliptic longitude, the Jupiter – Mars gap is about 54°. One hour before sunrise, the gibbous moon (19.6d, 68%), in western Aquarius, is nearly 28° up in the south-southeast. Mars – about 20° to the left of the moon – is over 29° up in the southeast, 2.1° to the lower right of Neptune. Farther west along the ecliptic, bright Jupiter is 26.0° up in the south-southwest, 5.1° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.8° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Forty-five minutes after sunset, use a binocular to locate Mercury (m = 1.3), over 7° up in the west-northwest.
  • June 12: One hour before sunrise, the moon (20.6d, 58%) – about 27° in altitude in the southeast – is 8.5° to the lower right of Mars. The Red Planet is 1.7° to the lower right of Neptune. Farther west, Jupiter is nearly 26° up in the south-southwest, 5.1° to the lower right of Saturn. Begin looking for the Pleiades, about 5° up in the east-northeast. Use a binocular to initially locate them. Can you see them without optical help? Continue to look during the next several clear mornings. What is the first date that you see the star cluster. Forty-five minutes after sunset, dim Mercury (m = 1.5) is nearly 7° up in the west-northwest. Jupiter rises at 10:30 p.m. CDT, about 130 minutes after sunset.
The moon and Mars, June 13, 2020
2020, June 13: The Last Quarter moon is 4.9° to the lower left of Mars.
  • June 13: The moon reaches its Last Quarter phase at 1:24 a.m. CDT. One hour before sunrise, the moon (21.6d, 49%) is 4.9° to the lower left of Mars. This morning Mars is 1.6° below Neptune. Farther west, bright Jupiter – nearly 26° in altitude in the south-southwest – is 5.2° to the lower right of Saturn. Both planets continue to retrograde as the gap between the two bright giants opens slowly. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Forty-five minutes after sunset, fading Mercury (m = 1.6) is over 6° up in the west-northwest.
  • June 14: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is over 25° up in the south-southwest, 5.2° to the lower right of Saturn and 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Farther east, Mars is over 30° in altitude in the southeast, 1.7° to the lower left of Neptune. The moon (22.6d, 39%), in Cetus, is over 20° up in the east-southeast. The moon is at apogee at 7:57 p.m. CDT. It is 251,261 miles away. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 1.7), far below Castor and Pollux, is 5.5° up in the west-northwest.
  • June 15: Mars rises a few minutes after 1 a.m. CDT. The moon (23.6d, 30%) is over 20° up in the east-southeast. It is in Cetus for a second morning. Mars – nearly 31° up in the southeast – is to the upper right of the thick lunar crescent. The Red Planet is 2.0° to the lower left of Neptune. Farther west along the ecliptic, Saturn is over 27° in altitude in the south-southwest. It is 5.3° to the upper left of bright Jupiter. Among the stars, Jupiter is 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, and Saturn is 2.0° to the lower right of σ Cap. Thirty minutes later, Venus (m = −4.3) is over 3° up in the east-northeast. Through a telescope, Venus is 5% illuminated – a morning crescent – that is 54” across. Forty-five minutes after sunset, Mercury (m = 1.9) is less than 5° in altitude in the west-northwest. Good-bye, Mercury! It moves toward its inferior conjunction and morning appearance next month with the moon and four other naked eye planets. Saturn rises at nearly 10:40 p.m. CDT. As midnight approaches it is about 10° up in the southeast, to the lower left of Jupiter.

At the beginning of morning twilight at midmonth, bright Jupiter and Saturn are at the meridian. The Teapot of Sagittarius is to the lower right of the planets. Antares is near the horizon in the southwest. Looking along the western horizon, Arcturus is low in the west, and the Big Dipper is low in the northwest. Back at the meridian, the Summer Triangle is high in the south. Vega and Altair are west of the meridian, while that imaginary line cuts through Cygnus. Deneb is east, while Alberio is west of the meridian. The body of the Swan – from Deneb to Alberio – points toward the southwest. Farther east, Fomalhaut is low in the southeast, while brightening Mars is higher in the east-southeast. On June 15th, the crescent moon is low in the east. Farther northward along the horizon, Capella peaks above the north-northeast horizon, with Perseus and Cassiopeia standing above it. With the solstice nearing, daylight has increased about 10 minutes since June 1. Together daylight and twilight span over 19.5 hours. In the evening after twilight ends, Arcturus and Spica, west of the meridian, gleam from the south-southwest. Golden-orange Arcturus is high in the sky. The trapezium shape of Corvus is tilted toward the southwest horizon, to the lower right of Spica. Leo, with Regulus, is tilted toward the western horizon. The Big Dipper is high in the northwest above the Lion. East of the meridian, Antares is about an hour away from its high point. The classic pincers of the arachnid – Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali – are west of the meridian. The Summer Triangle reigns in the east. Try to locate it as the sky darkens – before the end of evening twilight – on solstice evening. It’s lower in the sky, but the large reach of the three stars, with their individual constellations, dominates the eastern sky. Farther northward along the horizon, Cassiopeia is east of the north cardinal point and low in the sky. If you have a good view toward the northwest, you may still catch Capella, Castor, and Pollux, although they are quite low.

As for the planets, four naked eye planets are now in the morning sky. The Bright Outer Planets – Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn – are scattered across the southern sky. Mars and Jupiter are separated by nearly 57° of ecliptic longitude. Brilliant Venus pops into the morning sky during the second half of the month. The moon joins Venus on June 19 for a close grouping. Mercury joins them next month.

  • June 16: One hour before sunrise, the crescent moon (25.0d, 22%), 16.0° up in the east, is 3.8° above Alpha Piscium (α Psc, m = 3.8). Mars (m = −0.3) is over 31° up in the southeast, among faint stars in eastern Aquarius. Farther west along the ecliptic, Jupiter is nearly 25° up in the south-southwest, 5.3° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Thirty minutes before sunrise, Venus is over 4° up in the east-northeast.
  • June 17: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is nearly 25° up in the south-southwest. It is 5.3° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.6° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Mars is 31° up in the southeast. Farther to the north along the horizon, the moon (25.8d, 14%), about 11° up in the east, is in southern Aries. The lunar crescent is over 15° below Hamal (α Ari, m = 2.0). Note that the Pleiades are at about the same altitude as the moon, nearly 20° to the left of the moon’s crescent. Thirty minutes before sunrise, Venus (m = −4.4) is nearly 5° in altitude in the east-northeast, 24° to the lower left of the lunar crescent. Saturn rises at 10:30 p.m. CDT, about 120 minutes after sunset.
  • June 18: One hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter is over 24° in altitude in the southwest, and 5.4° to the lower right of Saturn. Use a binocular to observe that Jupiter is 1.6° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Farther east, Mars is nearly 32° up in the southeast. Notice that Mars is about 20° to the upper right of Beta Ceti (β Cet, m = 2.0). Notice that Mars, β Cet, and Fomalhaut – over 26° to β Cet’s right – make a large triangle in the southeast. Not many bright stars are found in this region, making the figure easy to locate. The crescent moon (26.8d, 8%), over 6° up in the east-northeast, is over 9° to the lower right of the Pleiades (M45). Thirty minutes before sunrise, Venus is nearly 6° in altitude in the east-northeast. Venus is nearly 12° to the lower left of the moon. You may need a binocular to see the moon in the growing twilight as sunrise approaches.
Venus and the moon, June 19, 2020
2020, June 19: Before sunrise the old moon is 1.0° to the lower left of brilliant Venus.
  • June 19: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is nearly 24° up in the south-southwest. It is 5.4° to the lower right of Saturn. The planets continue to retrograde. Note their slow movement relative to the starry background. Saturn is 2.2° to the lower right of σ Cap while Jupiter inches past 56 Sgr. This morning the gap is 1.6°. Jupiter is to the lower left of the dimmer star. Farther east along the ecliptic, Mars is over 32° up in the southeast. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, the old moon (27.8d, 4%), about 4° up in the east-northeast, is 1.0° to the lower left of Venus (m = −4.4). Find a clear horizon to view the pair. This is the closest grouping of the moon and Venus during this Venusian apparition! Through a telescope, Venus is only 8% illuminated but a large 51” across. Betelgeuse (α Ori, m = 0.4) is at its solar conjunction. While it is about 15° south of the ecliptic, it crosses the meridian with the sun.
Venus moves through Taurus, June and July 2020
2020, June 20: Venus is in Taurus and begins to move toward Aldebaran and the Hyades. Use optical assistance to locate the star during growing twilight.
  • June 20: One hour before sunrise, look for Jupiter, 23° up in the south-southwest. It passes 1.6° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii. Saturn is 5.5° to the upper left of Jupiter. Farther east, Mars is nearly 33° up in the southeast. As measured along the ecliptic, the Jupiter – Mars gap is over 60°. Begin looking for Venus (m = −4.5), low in the east-northeast at this time interval. By 45 minutes before sunrise, the brilliant planet is nearly 5° in altitude. During the next few mornings begin looking for Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8) with binoculars. The summer solstice occurs at 4:44 p.m. CDT. Daylight has stretched 11 minutes since June 1st.
  • June 21: The moon reaches its New phase at 1:41 a.m. CDT. An annular solar eclipse tracks across Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, and the western Pacific Ocean. Venus rises at Nautical Twilight, when the sun is 12° below the horizon. One hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter is over 23° up in the south-southwest, 5.5° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield Jupiter is 1.6° to the lower left of 56 Sgr, while Saturn is 2.3° to the lower right of σ Cap. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Venus is about 4° up in the east-northeast.
  • June 22: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is about 23° up in the south-southwest. Saturn is 5.6° to the upper left of Jupiter. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.6° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Farther east along the ecliptic, Mars – in the sparsely populated area of eastern Aquarius – is nearly 34° up in the southeast. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, brilliant Venus is nearly 6° up in the east-northeast. Have you observed it yet? In the evening – one hour after sunset – the moon (1.8d, 4%) is nearly 5° up in the west-northwest and 5.2° to the lower left of Pollux (β Gem, m = 1.2).
  • June 23: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is 23.0° up in the south-southwest. It is 5.6° to the lower right of Saturn and 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sgr. Farther east on the ecliptic, Mars is 34.0° up in the southeast. During the next few mornings watch it pass dimmer stars in Pisces as it moves into that constellation. This morning Mars is 1.4° to the upper right of 27 Piscium (27 Psc, m = 4.9). Use a binocular to see the starfield. Capella (α Aur, m = 0.1) is less than 15° up in the northeast. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Venus (m = −4.6) is nearly 7° up in the east-northeast. One hour after sunset, the crescent moon (2.8d, 9%) – over 12° in altitude in the west-northwest – is over 14° to the upper left of Pollux. With a binocular note that the lunar crescent is 1.4° to the upper right of the Beehive Cluster (M44, NGC 2632). At this time of the year, the twilight is quite bright at this time interval after sunset. Nautical Twilight does not occur until 78 minutes after sunset. Follow the moon as the early evening progresses. Can you find the Beehive? The bright stars in the northwest – Pollux, Castor (α Gem, m = 1.6), and Capella are making their last stands in the evening sky.
  • June 24: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter – 22.0° up in the south-southwest – is 5.7° to the lower right of Saturn as both planets retrograde. Jupiter appears to move westward faster than Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.7° below 56 Sgr. Farther east, Mars is nearly 35° up in the southeast. It is 0.7° to the right of 27 Psc. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Venus is over 7° up in the east-northeast. One hour after sunset, the moon (3.8d, 16%) – over 20° up in the west – is 9.2° to the lower right of Regulus (α Leo, m = 1.3).
  • June 25: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter, over 21° up in the south-southwest, is 5.7° to the lower right of Saturn (m = 0.2). In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.7° below 56 Sgr, while Saturn is 2.6° to the lower right of σ Cap. Farther east, Mars has moved into Pisces, 0.2° to the upper right of 27 Psc. Jupiter and Mars are separated by nearly 64° of ecliptic longitude. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Venus is nearly 8° up in the east-northeast. Through a telescope, the brilliant planet is in its morning crescent phase, 13.5% illuminated and 47” across. One hour after sunset, the moon (4.8d, 25%) is 6.1° to the upper left of Regulus in the western sky.
  • June 26: One hour before sunrise, Mars – nearly 36° in altitude in the southeast – is between 27 Psc and 29 Piscium (29 Psc, m = 5.1). While not midway between them, Mars is above a line that connects the stars. It is 0.4° to the upper left of 27 Psc and 0.5° to the right of 29 Psc. Use a binocular to see Mars with the starfield. Farther west along the ecliptic, bright Jupiter – about 21° up in the south-southwest – is 5.8° to the lower right of Saturn and 1.8° below 56 Sgr. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Venus is about 8° up in the east-northeast. This brilliant planet is 9.2° below Alcyone (η Tau, m = 2.8), the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster. A binocular helps you see the star cluster. One hour after sunset, the moon (5.8d, 36%), over 30° up in the west-southwest, is 8.2° below Denebola (β Leo, m = 2.1).
Four bright planets in the morning sky
2020, June 27: Four bright morning planets span 131° of ecliptic longitude, from Venus in the east-northeast to Jupiter in the southwest.
  • June 27: One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus, nearly 7° up in the east-northeast, is 9.3° below M45. The planet is 4.9° to the upper right of Aldebaran. At this time interval, the star is very low in the sky. What is the first date you see Aldebaran without optical aid? Look for it with a binocular as it rises higher in the sky as twilight brightens. Farther westward along the ecliptic, Mars is nearly 36° up in the southeast. It is 0.1° to the lower left of 29 Psc. Jupiter is nearly 21° up in the south-southwest, 5.8° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.8° below 56 Sgr. In the evening, one hour after sunset, the moon (6.8d, 47%), over 36° in altitude in the southwest, is 3.5° to the upper right of Eta Virginis (η Vir, m = 3.9) Jupiter rises at 9:30 p.m. CDT, about one hour after sunset. An hour later, Jupiter is nearly 9° up in the southeast with Saturn to its lower left.
  • June 28: The moon reaches its First Quarter phase at 3:16 a.m. CDT. Sixty minutes before sunrise, Venus is over 7° up in the east-northeast. It is 4.8° to the upper right of Aldebaran. Use a binocular to see the star as it rises higher in the sky later during twilight. Mars (m = −0.5) is over 36° up in the southeast, 0.7° to the lower left of 29 Psc. Jupiter is about 20° up in the south-southwest. Saturn is 5.9° to its upper left. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.9° below 56 Sgr. One hour after sunset, the moon (7.8d, 59%), over 38° up in the southwest, is 8.8° to the upper right of Spica.
  • June 29: One hour before sunrise, Jupiter is over 20° up in the south-southwest and 5.9° to the lower right of Saturn and 1.9° below 56 Sgr. Farther east, Mars is nearly 37° up in the southeast, 1.3° to the lower left of 29 Psc. Brilliant Venus (m = −4.7) is nearly 8° up in the east-northeast, 4.6° to the upper right of Aldebaran. During the next 18 mornings, Venus displays its greatest visual brightness. While the photometric brightness increases, your eye likely does not see any difference in the visual intensity of the planet.  The moon is at perigee at 9:13 p.m. CDT, 229,260 miles away. One hour after sunset, the moon (8.8d, 70%) is over 37° in altitude in the south-southwest, 9.9° to the upper left of Spica. As midnight approaches, Jupiter is over 19° up in the south-southeast. Jupiter passes 0.6° to the upper left of Pluto (m = 14.3). At this hour, Jupiter is 5.9° to the upper right of Saturn as the planetary trio (Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto) retrogrades.
The moon in the Scorpion's pincers, June 30, 2020
2020, June 30: Moon in the classic Scorpion’s pincers. Use a binocular or block the moon to see the dimmer stars.
  • June 30: Mars rises a few minutes before 12:30 a.m. CDT. One hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus is over 8° up in the east-northeast. It is 9.8° below the Pleiades. While Aldebaran is lower in the sky at this time interval, Venus is 4.4° to the upper right of the star. Look with a binocular as twilight progresses and the star is higher in the sky. Through a telescope, Venus is 18% illuminated – a morning crescent – that is 43” across. Farther west along the ecliptic, Mars is over 38° in altitude in the southeast. It is 1.8° to the lower left of 29 Psc. Use a binocular to see the planet in the starfield. Jupiter is over 19° in altitude in the southwest, 6.0° to the lower right of Saturn. In the starfield, Jupiter is 2.0° below 56 Sgr while Saturn is 2.9° to the lower right of σ Cap. As measured along the ecliptic, Venus is nearly 132° away from Jupiter and 64.0° from Mars in ecliptic longitude. One hour after sunset, the moon (9.8d, 80%), 34° up in the south is between the Scorpions classic pincers Zubenelgenubi (α Lib, m = 2.8) and Zubeneschamali (β Lib, m =2.6). The gibbous shape is 2.7° to the upper left of the southern pincer and 6.4° to the lower right of the northern pincer. The moon is at perigee at 9:13 p.m. CDT, 229,260 miles away. Mercury is at inferior conjunction at 9:53 p.m. CDT and moves toward the morning sky.

At the end of the month when morning twilight begins, the bright outer planet duo – Jupiter and Saturn – is west of the meridian. Brightening Mars, the third planet visible at this hour, is in the east-southeast. Higher in the south, the Summer Triangle is west of the meridian. At this hour, Arcturus is low in the west-northwest. Find a spot with a clear horizon to see it. The Big Dipper is low in the north-northwest. Moving eastward along the horizon is Capella, low in the north-northeast. The Pleiades, low in the east-northeast, appears at about the same altitude as Capella. Daylight has lost only two minutes in the 10 days since the solstice. At the end of evening twilight, red-orange Antares is slightly east of the meridian, less than one-third of the way up in the sky. The bright gibbous moon seems to be captured in the classic pincers of Scorpius. It is a few degrees above Zubenelgenubi. You may need a binocular or shield your eyes from the moon’s brightness to see the dimmer pincer stars. Farther east, Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southeastern sky. Golden-orange Arcturus appears high in the southwest while sapphire-white Vega is high in the east. Draw a line from Arcturus to Vega. About two-thirds of the way from the former to the latter is the Keystone of Hercules. The globular cluster M13 is found on the west side of this shape. Arcturus is high above Spica. Farther west, Leo is near the horizon. The Big Dipper is higher in the northwest, above the Lion. Back in the eastern sky, the Summer Triangle is about halfway up in the sky. Summer is here!

2020, May 24: Brilliant Evening Star Venus, Mercury, and Moon

Venus, Moon, and Mercury, May 24, 020
2020, May 24: The moon, Mercury, and Venus appear in the sky this evening, (Photo by Tim S.)

By Jeffrey L. Hunt

As Venus moves toward its inferior conjunction on June 3 and into the morning sky, Mercury is emerging into the evening sky. This evening the speedy planet is 5.5° to the upper left of Venus. The crescent moon, 2,3 days past the New phase and 5% illuminated, is nearly 12° to the upper left of Venus. The star Elnath – the Northern Horn of Taurus – is 4.6° above Venus and 3.5° to the upper right of Mercury.

Here’s more about Mercury in the evening sky.

Read this article for more about Venus as an Evening Star.

Looking ahead, here’s the Venus as a Morning Star, 2020-2021, article.

2020, May 23: Venus and Mercury

Venus, Mercury and Elnath, May 23, 2020
2020, May 23: Brilliant Venus appears with Mercury and Elnath in the evening sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Expecting to see the moon with Venus, storm clouds prevented the view. When the sky cleared, the moon had set. Venus sparkled low in the west-northwest. In the image above, Venus, Mercury, and Elnath are grouped into a pretty triangle. Mercury is 3.5° to the upper left of Venus and 3.1° to the lower left of Elnath The Venus- Elnath gap is 4.2°.

Venus is rapidly leaving the evening sky. In a few evenings it no longer appears there. After mid-June, it appears low in the east-northeast before sunrise.

Mercury is entering the evening sky for a brief appearance.

Here’s more about Mercury in the evening sky.

Read this article for more about Venus as an Evening Star.

Looking ahead, here’s the Venus as a Morning Star, 2020-2021, article.

2020, May 22: Venus and Mercury in the Evening Sky

Venus, Mercury, and the star Elnath in the evening sky, May 22, 2020
2020, May 22: Venus, Mercury, and Elnath make a compact triangle. Venus is 1.6° to the lower right of Mercury; Venus is 3.8° below Elnath; and the Mercury – Elnath gap is 3.4°.

Mercury Joins Venus in the Evening Sky

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

This evening Mercury appears 1.6° to the upper left of brilliant Evening Star Venus. Mercury continues to move beyond Venus. Venus is leaving the evening sky as it moves between our planet Earth and the sun on June 3.

Mercury is beginning its short evening journey before it heads to the morning sky in July where it joins four bright morning planets for an infrequent opportunity to see the five naked-eye planets simultaneously.

The star Elnath – the Northern Horn of Taurus – 3.8° above Venus.

The moon enters the scene tomorrow evening.

Here’s more about Mercury in the evening sky.

Read this article for more about Venus as an Evening Star.

Looking ahead, here’s the Venus as a Morning Star, 2020-2021, article

2020-2021: Venus as a Morning Star, The Diagram

Venus rising diagram
This chart shows the rising time difference between Venus rising and sunrise. The time differences for other planets and bright stars are included. The rising time difference for the moon is displayed with circles. The setting times of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars are shown as well.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

The chart above, calculated from data from the U.S. Naval Observatory for Chicago, Illinois, shows the difference in rising time between Venus (green line) and the sun during the planet’s morning apparition. The three phases of twilight are included.   Other bright stars that appear near the ecliptic are graphed as well as the time differences for the other bright planets. The moon’s rising time differences are displayed as circles. All this activity occurs in the eastern sky. The setting time differences (circles) for Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars are included as well. When the planets set in the west at sunrise, they are at opposition. For Jupiter, this occurs on July 14, 2020, followed by Saturn six days later. Mars’ opposition occurs on October 13, 2020. Every date after their opposition dates the planets set in the west before sunrise until they disappear from the top of the chart, setting over 5 hours before sunrise.

When the Venus line crosses the lines of other objects, they rise at the same time. A conjunction occurs near the intersection. It is important to note that because two objects rise at the same time, they may not appear close together in the sky. While Antares, Aldebaran, and Pollux generally lie near the ecliptic, the conjunctions with planets can have gaps of several degrees. As an extreme example, Sirius and Venus rise within a few minutes of each other on September 15, 2020. Venus rises in the east-northeast and Sirius in the east-southeast. They are over 40° apart. Objects are selected for the graph that appear near the ecliptic. For this reason, Sirius is not graphed.

If a moon circle is displayed near one of the rising lines, a conjunction may occur on that date, or on the day before or day after the date the moon and that object are plotted together. Notes are on the graph to indicate the dates when the moon is near Venus, along with their angular separations. The closest grouping occurs on June 19, 2020, when they are separated by 1.0°. While they are low in the sky, the scene is that of a classic artist’s celestial painting. Other groupings occur when the moon is higher in a darker sky. Details are in the daily notes.

With the focus on Venus, conjunctions with stars are indicated with boxes on the Venus curve. The greatest morning (west) elongations of Venus and Mercury are indicated with yellow triangles and “GE” labels.

The midpoint (July 8) of the interval of Venus’ greatest brightness is marked with a yellow diamond shape and the “GB” label. While not a formal designation, the change in apparent magnitude is hardly distinguishable to the unaided eye during this period that runs from June 29 through July 17. The midpoint is near the date of the planet’s greatest illuminated extent (July 10). This occurs when the illuminated portion of the planet covers the largest area of the sky. This means the planet is very bright, at its theoretical maximum brightness. For a technical explanation, see https:/tinyurl.com/venus-greatest-illuminated.

For more about Venus as a Morning Star 2020-2021.

2020, May 15: Brilliant Evening Star Makes Its Last Stand

Venus and Elnath, May 15, 2020
2020, May 15: Venus is 1.8° to the lower left of Elnath.

Brilliant Evening Star Venus is making its last stand in the evening sky for 2020.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Venus is turning toward the sun and its inferior conjunction on June 3, 2020. The brilliant planet is quickly leaving the evening sky, appearing lower each night at the same time. By mid-June, it’ll shine brightly from the low in the east-northeast before sunrise.

This evening Venus is 1.8° to the lower left of Elnath, the Northern Horn of Taurus.

On May 19, look for Mercury, below Venus. The moon joins the scene on May 23.

Read this article for more about Venus as an Evening Star.

2020, May 12: Evening Star Venus in the West

Venus and Elnath, May 12. 2020
2020, May 12: Venus is 1.5° to the lower left of Elnath.

Brilliant Evening Star is in the west this evening.

Two evenings after the Venus – Elnath quasi (near) conjunction, the brilliant Evening Star is making a left turn as it moves away from the star. During the next few evenings watch it move farther away and appear lower in the sky each night at the same time. This evening Venus is 1.5° to the lower left of Elnath.

Capella is the bright star to the upper right of Venus.

On May 19, look for Mercury, below Venus. The moon joins the scene on May 23.

Read this article for more about Venus as an Evening Star.