September 3: During predawn hours, the thick waning crescent moon (23.0 d, 46%) is 5.2° to the lower left of Aldebaran.
September 3: During predawn hours, the thick waning crescent moon (23.0 d, 46%) is 5.2° to the lower left of Aldebaran.
During late April, brilliant Venus moves through the stellar background of Taurus with its two bright star clusters: Pleiades and Hyades.
On April 24, Venus is closest to Alcyone, the brightest star in the Pleiades cluster. They are 3.5 degrees apart.
The Pleiades is a compact grouping of bright bluish stars known to school children as “The Seven Sisters.” The cluster resembles a tiny dipper. To the unaided eye, 6 or 7 stars are visible. A dozen or so through binoculars. A few hundred through telescopes. The Hyades are nearby. This group resembles a check mark, a letter “V” when Aldebaran is included, although it is not part of the cluster.
Astronomical theory describes that stars are formed in bunches from a stellar, gaseous nebula. Over time the mutual gravitation pull of the stars within the cluster is not strong enough to keep the group together. The Hyades and Pleaides are close enough (within 400 light years) that they can be seen without a telescope. Many star clusters are just beyond the perception of our eyes.
The star cluster pair is best-observed through binoculars, Start observing Venus’ movement through the region nightly at mid-month. On April 18, the crescent moon appears among the Hyades.
Watch the events unfold during the spring evenings.
For more about Venus and the bright evening planets, see these articles:
Brilliant Venus shines low in the eastern sky this morning at 4:15 a.m. CDT with Aldebaran about 4 degrees away. Click the image to see the stars near Aldebaran that comprise the Hyades star cluster. The Pleiades cluster appears above Venus and Aldebaran.
For more information about sky watching events:
Update: Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, April 10, 2018.
Photo Credit: NASA
(This article has many details about celestial events with Mars until 2019. Bookmark it so that you can return to it later.)
Every few years, Earth passes Mars. The Red Planet shines brightly in our skies, and prompts many Internet claims that the planet will appear larger than the moon.
In recent history observations of Mars spawned stories of great martian cities and unusual beings. Mars is a planet that inspires intrigue and speculation.
Once every 15 or 17 years, Mars appears at opposition when it is nearest the sun (perihelion). Just after midnight (12:13 a.m. Central Daylight Time) on July 27, 2018, opposition occurs and this is near Mars’ closest point to the sun (perihelion). Opposition is just not one flash-in-the-pan event. During the evenings leading up to opposition, the Mars grows in brightness and in size, although its planetary globe is not discernible to normal human sight. A telescope is needed to see the orb of Mars. More about the appearance of Mars during its 2017-2019 observing year follows.
The 768-day observing season begins with Mars’ solar conjunction on July 26, 2017 (7:57 p.m. CDT).
At this time, Mars is behind the sun as viewed from Earth and lost in the sun’s brilliance. It rises with the sun, lies in the south at noon, and sets around sunrise. The planet gradually emerges into the morning sky. This process is slower than most planets as it revolves around the sun every 687 days about half the speed of our planet.
On the chart above notice the scale drawings of the planets’ orbits. Earth’s orbit is nearly a circle, while Mars’ orbit is more elliptical. Opposition occurs nearly a year after the conjunction date. The planets are over-sized on the chart to easily demonstrate their positions. The yellow line that extends from Earth through the sun defines noon, the morning side of the sky and the evening sky. The line pointing away from the sun, defines midnight.
This chart was calculated from data by the United States Naval Observatory for Chicago, Illinois, in the Central Time Zone.
The chart shows the rising time of Mars (the red line) compared to sunrise beginning with its solar conjunction (7/26/17) until the time it rises more than 5 hours before the sun (May 23, 2018). The rising time differences for the moon (circles) and other bright planets are included as well as the rising time differences for bright stars that appear near the plane of the solar system (ecliptic) where the planets appear to move in the sky. The time differences are included for Civil Twilight, Nautical Twilight and Astronomical Twilight. These events occur in the eastern sky, except for the Saturn sets and Jupiter Sets circles. Those planets are setting in the morning western sky.
Mars is hidden in the sun’s glare until late August, although it can be found with optical assistance. Mars appears near a celestial object when its rising line crosses other celestial objects’ rising lines or when the Mars rising line appears near a circle indicating the rising of the moon. During this morning appearance, the Red Planet has conjunctions with Mercury, Venus, Spica, Jupiter, Antares and Saturn.
As it rises and sets from Earth’s rotation, it rises earlier each morning from our revolution around the sun and its revolution around the sun. At its solar conjunction we are 180 degrees from Mars and are moving nearly twice its speed, so it’s a slow catch-up game. Meanwhile the other celestial objects rise earlier from our revolution around the sun, except for Mercury, the moon and Venus.
As Mars emerges from the sun’s glare, it is dim in our skies. In late August and early September it appears near Regulus, Mercury. Venus and the moon.
On the morning of September 16, Mars and Mercury appear very close together, less than 0.2 degrees apart! The pair is only 17 degrees from the sun and near the horizon when the sky begins to brighten. Mars is over 240 million miles away, appearing as a not-so-bright star in the morning sky.
Our view on this morning puts Mercury and Mars, in conjunction, near the eastern horizon with Regulus 7 degrees above Mars with Venus and the waning crescent moon higher in the sky. Find a clear horizon and use binoculars. This view shows them one hour before sunrise, about the time of nautical twilight, when the horizon is first distinguishable.
Update: September 18, 2017
Mars and Venus were last in conjunction on November 3, 2015 when they were about 3/4 degree apart. As with the last conjunction the 2017 conjunction occurs in a sky full of planets as noted here. Also note that these conjunctions occur farther east along the solar system’s (ecliptic) plane.
As Venus heads toward its solar superior conjunction, it passes Mars on the morning of October 5. On the rising chart above notice that the Venus rising time (the green line) diminishes during the autumn of 2017. Mars’ separation from the sun has grown to 23 degrees. Earth is slowly catching Mars, yet opposition is months away. From this scale drawing notice that Venus’ orbit is closer to Earth than Mars.
The separation of the pair is about one-fourth of a degree. This would be spectacular conjunction if Mars were brighter. However, Venus-Mars conjunctions only occur when Mars is far away from our planet and near the sun (where Venus appears). For more about the appearance of Venus, see this article. The planets are close for a few mornings before and after this close passing.
Update: The Venus-Mars conjunction, October 5, 2017
The moon moves through its orbit about every 27 days and its cycle of phases nearly every 30 days. The circles on the rising chart indicate the rising times of the moon. If a moon circle appears near a planet or star on the chart, there is a good chance they are together in the sky. For example on October 17, the moon circle appears with Mars and Venus (the green line) rises less than an hour later.
The view of that morning is a close appearance of the waning crescent moon and Mars (1.3 degrees) with Venus 6 degrees to the lower left of Mars.
Update: Mars with the waning crescent moon and Venus nearby, October 17, 2017.
Mars then slowly marches eastward compared to the starry background, moving eastward along the solar system’s ecliptic plane. Earth is slowly catching up to the Red Planet and it has brightened only slightly since its first morning appearance.
On the morning of November 30, Mars passes slightly more than 3 degrees from the star Spica. The pair is close for a few days before the closest pairing. Jupiter began its morning appearance in late October is now about 16.5 degrees to the lower left of Mars. Watch Mars catch up with Jupiter during the next six weeks as the two pass early in 2018.
Update, December 1, 2017. (The sky was cloudy on November 30.)
By early 2018, Mars is now nearly 60 degrees from the sun, rising about 4.5 hours before sunrise, nearly 45% brighter than when it first appeared in the morning sky and about 180 million miles from Earth. Earth is slowly catching Mars. Recall, that Mars moves at about half the speed of Earth, so it’ll over six months to catch up to Mars from this point.
On a few mornings around January 7, 2018, Mars passes close to Jupiter near the stars of Libra with the star Antares nearly 23 degrees to the lower left of the planetary pair. Jupiter is over three times farther away than Mars, yet it outshines the nearer planet by 20 times. Jupiter’s brightness is from its enormous size compared to Mars and its highly reflective cloud tops. Jupiter’s clouds reflect nearly 40% more sunlight than Mars’ rocky and dusty surface. Since it is over 3 times farther away than Mars early in the new year, it receives only 11% of the sunlight that reaches its red neighbor. Jupiter is highly reflective and much larger, yet it receives much less sunlight than Mars.
Jupiter and Mars are in conjunction in spans of 26-27 months.
The next conjunction is March 20, 2020 when the two planets are about 0.7 degree apart when they rise in the morning sky before the beginning to twilight. A close conjunction occurs (0.3 degrees) on August 14, 2024 when the two planets rise in the northeastern sky after 1:30 a.m. The conjunction occurs among the bright stars of Taurus near Aldebaran and the Hyades. A conjunction slightly closer than the 2018 conjunction (0.2 degree) occurs on December 1, 2033. The planets appear in the evening sky in front of the dim stars of Aquarius, setting at about 10:30 p.m.
During the next 30 days, Mars continues to ramble eastward among the stars and growing nearly 40% in brightness. On the morning of February 10, Mars passes 5 degrees from the star Antares. Jupiter is 17 degrees to the upper right of Mars and the waning crescent moon is 14 degrees to the lower left. Mars is the Roman name for this planet. The Greeks called it Ares. Antares is sometimes called the “Rival of Mars.” When both are in the sky they resemble each other in brightness and color. Another way to consider this is the prefix “Ant,” sometimes meaning against: Antares = Against Mars. Yet another way is to think that “Ant” can be replaced with “Not:” Not Mars. This star is Antares, not Mars; it’s not Mars.
By late March, Mars is well past Jupiter with an upcoming conjunction with Saturn, yet still in the morning sky. Mars grows in brightness nearly 2.5 times since the beginning of the year. On March 23, it is 90 degrees from the sun (quadrature), rising about four hours, twenty minutes before sunrise and shines from the southern skies at sunrise. Earth is beginning to approach Mars, still 110 million miles away, but the opposition is still 3 months away.
Mars continues eastward march against the starry background, reaching Saturn on April 2, 2018, when the two planets are 1.25 degrees apart. The Red Planet is slightly brighter (about 23%) than Saturn. The color contrast is distinct, with Saturn’s pale yellow-orange color distinguished from Mars’ red-orange hue. This conjunction occurs north of the main stars of Sagittarius, also commonly called “The Teapot.”
Update: Mars-Saturn Conjunction, April 2, 2018
After the Saturn conjunction, Mars continues to move eastward compared to the stars, yet it rises in the east and sets in the west as Earth rotates. It moves away from the region of the Tea Pot toward the stars of Capricornus. On June 26, Mars stops its eastward motion among the stars and begins to appear to move backwards, retrograde. Since its conjunction with Saturn, this brightness grows over times and its distance diminished 2.5 times. For the next month, Mars continues to retrograde as it reaches opposition, rising in the east at sunset and setting in the west at sunrise. Its brightness grows another 20%. Because Mars’ orbit is noticeably elliptical, opposition night is not the closest night. Four nights later Mars is closest it has been since August 28, 2003.
This chart shows the close opposition of Mars. The planet orbits are to scale, the planet sizes are not to scale. Mars appears as a bright star at opposition. (It will not appear the size of the moon.) The “midnight” indicates that Mars is south at midnight, opposite the time when the sun is south.
On Opposition night the full moon appears about 7 degrees from Mars as they rise in the east at sunset. On the evenings around opposition, Mars outshines all other stars and planets except Venus, although the moon is 10000 times brighter than Mars.
Other close historic perihelic oppositions:
The next perihelic opposition is September 15, 2035 (0.382 A.U.). The next Mars opposition is October 13, 2020 (0.42 A.U.). A more extensive list of oppositions appears at the end of this article.
Mars continues to retrograde until August 27, dimming slightly as it moves westward motion against the stars.
Resuming its eastward motion, Mars dims considerably, nearly 2.5 times as our planet now moves away from it as the last date displayed on the chart is displayed (October 13, 2018).
For more details about the opposition, see this article.
After opposition, Mars is in the eastern sky during the early evening, in the south in the middle of the night and setting in the west well before sunrise.
On December 1, 2018, as Earth pulls away from Mars, it is 90 degrees east of the sun, now in the evening sky. (The angle Sun-Earth-Mars angle is 90 degrees.) It appears in the southern sky around sunset.
On New Years Day 2019, Mars is in the southern sky after sunset and setting in the west around midnight.
In early March 2019, Mars “appears” on the evening sky chart showing when planets, the moon (circles) and bright stars near the ecliptic set after sunset. This chart refers to activity in the western sky after sunset. The Jupiter rises and Saturn rises circles refer to activity in the eastern evening sky.
Mars continues to move eastward compared to the stars, now much dimmer than it was a few months ago. On the evening of March 11, 2019, the moon appears about 7 degrees to the upper left of Mars.
On March 31, 2019, its eastward motion carries it near the Pleaides star cluster and its brightest star Alcyone. Away from bright lights, Mars is easily distinguishable from the tiny star cluster.
Through binoculars, the stars cluster stands out. The contrasting colors of the stars with Mars is easy to see.
During Spring, Mars continues to set earlier each night as it slowly ambles eastward against the stars. By May it is 30 times dimmer than it was at opposition. While it is one of the brighter celestial objects, Earth is pulling away from Mars making it appear dimmer in our sky. On May 7, Mars appears near several brighter stars that are prominently displayed in the southern sky during the evening hours of winter. The moon is 3.75 degrees to the lower left of Mars. Prominent Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Elnath appear in the same region.
Mars begins setting during twilight in early June 2019. On June 18 Mercury passes 0.2 degree from Mars. Mercury is over 1.5 times brighter than Mars, yet the Red Planet is over 230 million miles away heading toward its solar conjunction.
Mars setting earlier during twilight each evening becoming a binocular object as it sets in deeper twilight.
As it sets in bright twilight, it passes Pollux and Regulus. In late August 2019, Venus and Mars pass each other, but the pair sets about 10 minutes after sunset.
Mars reaches its solar conjunction on September 2, 2019, again rising with the sun, is in the southern noon sky, setting in the west with the sun, and ending its 768-day apparition with its perihelic opposition.
November 14, 2017, Moon to Mars, 7.25 degrees
December 14, 2017, Moon to Mars, 9.5 degrees
Jupiter and Mars, November 26, 2017.
Jupiter and Mars, November 28, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 1, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 3, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 8, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 12, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 14, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 16, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 19, 2017
Jupiter and Mars, December 27, 2017
Jupiter, Mercury and Mars, January 1, 2018
Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars, January 4, 2018
Jupiter and Mars, January 5, 2018
Jupiter and Mars, January 6, 2018
January 18, 2016
Jupiter and Mars, January 26, 2018
Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, February 2, 2018
Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, February 5, 2018
Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, February 12, 2018
Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, March 2, 2018
Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, March 9, 2018
Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, March 13, 2018
Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, March 18, 2018
Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, March 22, 2018
Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, March 25, 2018
Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, April 2, 2018
Jupiter, Saturn,and Mars, April 10, 2018
A perihelic opposition occurs July 27, 2018. This close oppositions provides an infrequent opportunity to watch Mars emerge from behind the sun climb into the eastern morning sky. It gradually increases in brightness to brightly appear at opposition. Then it slips back into the bright twilight of the sun to complete its dramatic close appearance.
“Imagination is but another name for super intelligence.” — Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Winter Stars gleam brightly from the southern sky this evening. Orion, with its bright stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, slowly march westward. Within the constellation is the Orion Nebula that appears as a fuzzy cloud through a small telescope or binoculars. Aldebaran appears in front of the Hyades star cluster, that appears in a check mark shape or a letter “V” if you include the bright star. The Pleiades star cluster is to the upper right of the Aldebaran. You can count six or seven stars. Through binoculars you may see a few dozen.
The clear winter sky tonight provides for excellent sky watching.
Brilliant Venus shines from the western sky this evening as seen from the Chicago area. The moon, overexposed in the image, appears about 10 degrees to the upper left of Venus. Dimmer Saturn is 6 degrees to the right of Venus. The red planet Mars is 36 degrees to the upper left of Venus. During the month, watch Venus get closer to Mars. For more about the planets see the articles linked above.
This appearance of Venus and Mars has concluded. For the October 5, 2017 conjunction, click here.
Update: Here are the planets when they were closest on February 3.
A Recent Venus-Mars Conjunction
On an interval that varies from several days to nearly 23 months, Venus and Mars can appear very close together in the sky. These conjunctions can be very close (Epoch) or with very wide separations. During the conjunction displayed in the above image (November 3, 2015), the planets appeared about 0.7 degree (42 minutes) apart. On October 5, 2017, they appear over 3 times closer with a separation of .22 degree (13.2 minutes). (In the sky we measure the separation of objects by a geometric angle as seen from Earth. The full moon’s diameter is about 0.5 degree. Your little finger at arm’s length covers a full moon. Try it during the next time the moon is full. In the above image Venus and Jupiter are separated by about 7 degrees. Your fist at arm’s length covers about 10 degrees in the sky.)
At its brightest, Mars shines as the third brightest starlike object in the sky, following Venus and Jupiter. This occurs when Mars is at opposition, when it is closest to Earth and opposite the sun in the sky. At opposition, Mars rises in the east at sunset, appears in the south at midnight and sets in the west at sunrise. Conjunctions of Mars (and the planets beyond Earth) with Venus occur when Venus is within 47 degrees of the sun. This angle is the greatest angular separation that Venus has from the sun from our home planet view. Yet, if Venus and Mars appear too close to the sun, they are lost in the sun’s brightness and not visible from Earth. Because Mars is far from our planet during a Venus conjunction, it is not near its maximum brightness, so Venus always appears very bright in the sky and a conjunction with Mars occurs when the Red Planet is dimmer. A Venus-Mars conjunction does not occur when Mars is near its brightest (at opposition) Notice Mars’ brightness in the image at the beginning of this article from the 2015 conjunction.
Notice that Venus does not appear at opposition; so it is not visible at midnight.
At the time of this writing, Venus has recently entered the evening sky and passed its Epoch Conjunction with Jupiter. On September 15,2016, Venus appears low in the sky in the west. Saturn and the star Antares are farther south. Mars is beyond them, about 62 degrees from Venus.
From a view outside the solar system, this 62-degree angle is represented in the chart above. In all these charts, Earth is at the geometric vertex of the angle.
As the dates advance toward the New Year, Venus moves closer to Mars. The chart above shows the setting times of planets, the moon, and selected stars compared to sunset during part of 2017, until Mars disappears into the sun’s glare. On January 1, 2017, notice on the chart that The moon sets close to the time of the setting of Venus (14 minutes difference). This indicates that they appear close to each other in the sky. Mars follows Venus by about an hour.
This chart represents what we see in the sky during the early evening on New Years Day. Venus and the Moon are 4 degrees apart with Mars about 12 degrees to the upper left of Venus.
During January 2017, Venus and Mars appear to move closer together as the setting lines of the two planets begin to converge.
On February 3, 2017, the planets close to 5.5 degrees, with Mars setting 19 minutes after Venus. The chart above shows their close angular proximity, but they are nearly 126 million miles apart in space, over 300 times the distance between the earth and the moon.
In the sky, brilliant Venus dominates the southwestern sky with dimmer Mars 5.5 degrees to its upper left.
After this near meeting, Venus rapidly moves back toward the sun, as indicated by the rapidly decreasing time it sets after the sun as indicated by the setting graph earlier in this article. The planets appear farther apart on the sky as the time difference in their settings increases.
On March 1, the planets are 13 degrees apart with the moon 5 degrees to the lower left of Mars.
By March 15, Venus sets at the beginning of twilight and 4 days later it sets in bright twilight. This is a rapid plunge into the sun’s glare.
On March 25, Venus passes between the earth and sun (inferior conjunction) and rapidly moves into the morning sky. Mars slowly sets earlier each night until it disappears into the sun’s glare toward its solar conjunction on July 27.
In late April, Mars moves through Taurus, which has two prominent star clusters: Pleiades and Hyades. The Pleiades star cluster is a compact cluster of many blue stars. Commonly named the “Seven Sisters,” the cluster is a spectacular sight through binoculars. Mars passes closest to the cluster (3.5 degrees) on April 21. With binoculars the cluster and the planet are be visible at the same time.
The bright star Aldebaran appears in line with the Hyades cluster; its loosely collected stars resemble a check mark. The Hyades cluster is another spectacular view through binoculars.
On April 28, the moon joins the view in the western sky when it is 4 degrees to the upper left of Aldebaran. Mars continues its planetary motion among these stars.
On April 29, Mars and Aldebaran set at the same time, but they are nearly 7.5 degrees apart. By this date, Venus is shining brightly in the morning sky rising about 90 minutes before sunrise.
On May 6, Mars passes 6.5 degrees to the upper right of Aldebaran. A few days later, Mars begins setting during evening twilight, each night setting deeper into the glow after sunset; It moves behind the sun on July 27.
Our images and charts collections are available here –> http://goo.gl/Sfp1ur
See our article about Venus’ evening appearance.
See our article outlining the planets in the evening sky in 2016.