In a cold, clear sky with a gibbous moon, morning planets Jupiter and Mars shine from the southeastern sky. Jupiter and Saturn are emerging from their recent solar conjunctions and heading for their Great Conjunction later in the year.
This morning, Mars is nearly 18° to the upper right of Jupiter. During the next 5 weeks watch Mars march eastward compared to the starry background and pass Jupiter on March 20 and Saturn, March 31.
Linkto summary about February 2020’s morning planets.
Here’s the detailed note for this morning:
February 14: One hour before sunrise, the moon (20.6 days past New, 66% illuminated), nearly 36° up in the south-southwest is midway from Spica to Zubeneschamali (β Lib, m = 2.6) and about 2° to the left of Kappa Virginis (κ Vir, m = 4.2). Use a binocular to locate the dimmer stars this morning. Jupiter passes Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr, m =2.9), 1.4° to the lower right of the star. Mars is nearly 18° to the upper right of Jupiter, 1.6° to the upper right of 4 Sagittarii (4 Sgr, m = 4.1) – the western gateway to the bright nebulae in Sagittarius. Watch Mars move through this region during the next several mornings. The challenge is to find a reasonable time to view Mars among the nebulae so that it has enough altitude, but when the sky is still dark enough to find the faint clouds. Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Jupiter is over 10° in altitude in the southeastern sky. Saturn is about 10° to Jupiter’s lower left, nearly 6° in altitude.
Venus appears near the moon and the Pleiades star cluster on the evening of March 28, 2020.
Start looking for Venus and the moon about an hour after sunset. As the sky darkens further, the Pleiades star cluster is fully revealed. The trio makes a pretty triangle. By the end of evening twilight, about 90 minutes after sunset, the sky is fully dark naturally and the grouping sparkles in the western sky.
The crescent moon is only 18% illuminated. It is only 4.7 days past its New phase.
The star Aldebaran, the brightest in Taurus, appears to the upper left of the grouping.
Use tripod-camera to capture the triple grouping. Exposures from 1-10 seconds will capture earthshine on the moon. Reflected sunlight from Earth gently illuminates the night portion of the moon.
As Mars closes in on Jupiter for a conjunction on March 20, the moon joins the scene two days before the conjunction. The lunar crescent makes a pretty triangle with Jupiter and Mars. Jupiter is the brighter planet. The trio makes a small triangle, the moon is 2.4° to the lower right of Jupiter and 2.2° to the lower left of Mars.
Look for the planets and the moon one hour before sunrise in the southeast.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.