What the Planets are doing this month


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January 2020

   Mercury. The inner planet returns to the western evening sky on the 11th of the month but remains too close to the Sun for good observation for the rest of the month. Even at its best it will set less than one hour later than the Sun and hard to spot in the evening twilight. Give it a miss this month.

Venus. At the beginning of the month the "Evening Star" sets two hours later than the Sun in Capricornus. It will cross into Aquarius on the 11th where it will have a close encounter with Neptune on the 27th and 28th of the month and joined also on the 28th by the three day old waxing crescent Moon.

   Mars. In Libra as January begins, Mars will be rising three hours before the Sun. It crosses into Scorpius on the 8th and into Ophiuchus on the 16th. On the 19th Mars and Scorpio's brightest star Antares (the rival of mars) will be less than five degrees apart. The similarity in colour of the two objects will be very noticeable with their ruddy glow, Mars at magnitude 1.46 and Antares a little brighter at magnitude 1.0. A waning crescent Moon sits less than three degrees to the north of Mars on the 21st of the month.

  Jupiter. The ringed planet moves into the morning sky this month and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 11th and to close to the Sun for observation until next month.

  Saturn. Wait to the end of the month before trying to observe Saturn when it will be rising two hours before the Sun.

Moon Phase for January 2020:

   3rd  11th  17th  25th

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February 2020 

   Mercury. The inner planet reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 10th of the month when it will set only forty seven minutes later than the Sun and hard to spot in the western twilight sky. It will be at inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 26th after which it will move into the early morning sky but remain too close to the Sun to be observed for the rest of the month. Give it a miss until next month.

Venus. The "Evening Star" crosses from Aquarius into Pisces on the 3rd where it will remain for the rest of February. Unmistakable in the western evening sky, Venus sets two hours later than the Sun for most of the month and is joined by the three day old waxing crescent Moon on the 27th of the month when the pair will be seven degrees apart.

   Mars. Rising four hours before the Sun in Ophiuchus at the beginning of the month, Mars crosses into Sagittarius on the 12th and into the company of both Jupiter and Saturn. By month's end the red planet will be rising almost five hours prior to the Sun. A waning crescent Moon will sit four degrees to the east of Mars on the 19th of February.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. Both of the gas giant planets spend the month in Sagittarius and begin the month eleven degrees apart. Because of Jupiter's faster orbit around the Sun by the end of the month less than nine degrees separate the pair. On the 20th the waning crescent Moon sits one degree to the east of Jupiter and on the 21st will be four degrees to the east of Saturn. The two planets are easily identified by their respective colours, Jupiter a brilliant white and Saturn with its distinctive yellow tinge.

Moon Phase for February 2020:

2nd    9th     16th     24th   

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March 2020

   Mercury. The inner planet rises thirty minutes before the Sun at the beginning of the month but by the 24th when it will be at its greatest western elongation from the Sun it will rise over two hours prior to the Sun. At magnitude 0.16 Mercury will be the brightest object in that part of the morning sky except for a waning crescent Moon which it encounters on the 22nd when the pair are separated by just over three degrees.
 
Venus. The "Evening Star" begins the month in Pisces moving into Aries on the 5th and on the last day of the month slipping into Taurus and finishing three degrees to the west of the Pleiades star cluster. It reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 25th beginning its journey back to inferior conjunction with the Sun in June. On the 8th and 9th the magnitude 5.5 ice planet Uranus will be just over two degrees south of the brightest planet and on the 28th the four day old waxing crescent Moon sits seven degrees to the south of Venus.

   Mars,  Jupiter and   Saturn. These three planets spend almost the entire month in Sagittarius with Saturn moving into Capricornus on the 26th followed by Mars on the first day of April. Only half a degree separates the red planet from the magnitude 5.1 globular cluster M22 on the first day of March. Mars passes within a degree to the south of Jupiter on the 21st, less than one degree to the north of magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 on the 30th and within a degree to the south of Saturn on the 1st of next month. A waning crescent Moon visits the trio on the 19th of the month.

Moon Phase for March 2020:

03rd    10th   16th   24th 

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April 2020

   Mercury. The inner planet rises almost two hours before the Sun at the beginning of April and in a great position for observation for the early risers. On The 4th and 5th of the month Mercury will pass less than two degrees to the south of the magnitude 8 outer planet Neptune and the pair may fit into the same field of a low power eyepiece. It may be a bit of a challenge but on the 22nd Mercury will rise one hour before the Sun accompanied by the thin crescent of a waning Moon and worth a look with a pair of binoculars.

Venus. The evening star begins the month in the western evening sky in Taurus where it joins the Pleiades on the 3rd and 4th of April. It travels through the bull and ends the month four degrees from El Nath, the star marking the tip of one of the horns of the bull. The three day old waxing crescent Moon sits between Venus and the Hyades star cluster on April 26th.

   Mars. On the first of the month Mars is located less than one degree from Saturn in the constellation of Capricornus-The Sea Goat. The contrasting colours of the two planets will be quite noticeable, Saturn with a subtle yellow tinge and Mars with its distinct red hue. Mars sets off   across Capricornus on its eastward journey against the background stars encountering the Moon on the 16th and 17th of the month. Mars will rise just after midnight for the entire month of April.

  Jupiter and   Saturn.  The two giant planets begin the month separated by just over six degrees but because of Jupiter's faster orbit around the Sun, by the end of the month they will have moved to within five degrees of each other. Around the 24th the magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 lies midway between the two only three degrees separating it from both planets. Keen eyed observers might wish to search for 14th magnitude Pluto which is 44 arcminutes to the south of Jupiter on the 4th and 5th of April. On the 15th and 16th the first quarter Moon is in the vicinity of Jupiter & Saturn. Jupiter will rise just before midnight midmonth and Saturn twenty seven minutes later.

Moon Phase for April 2020:

1st    8th   15th   23rd

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May 2020

   Mercury. In conjunction with the Sun on May 5th after which it enters the western evening sky while the Sun is in Aries. It quickly crosses into Taurus where it will spend most of the month before moving into Gemini on the 29th of the month. It will be in conjunction with Venus on the 22nd when the pair will be one degree apart and setting in the evening twilight one hour later than the Sun. The thin crescent of a waxing Moon forms a triangle with the pair on the 24th but a bit of a challenge in the western evening twilight.

Venus. This is the last month to observe Venus in the western sky for this apparition and a view through the telescope will show it as a very slender crescent. The brightest planet sets two hours later than the Sun at the beginning of May but by the end of the month will be lost in the western evening twilight setting only twenty minutes later than the Sun. It is in conjunction with Mercury on the 22nd and on the 24th meets the thin crescent of a less than two day old waxing Moon.

   Mars. Continuing its eastern journey against the background stars the red planet starts the month in Capricornus, crossing into Aquarius on the 10th where it will spend the rest of the month. It will be attended there by a waning crescent Moon on the 15th and 16th of the month.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two giant planets seem to be locked together this month, separated by less than five degrees all month. Jupiter remains in Sagittarius while Saturn is just across the border in Capricornus. The magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M72 lies between the two and is less than three degrees from both of them. A waning gibbous Moon resides just over three degrees from the two planets on the 12th of May. Jupiter rises around 9:30pm midmonth and Saturn twenty two minutes later.

Moon Phase for May 2020:

1st   7th   14th   23rd   30th 

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June 2020


   Mercury:    The smallest planet begins the month with the twins where it will remain for the entire month. It reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 4th when it will be setting ninety minutes later than the Sun. The thin crescent of the one day old waxing Moon sets just before Mercury in the 22nd and a bit of a challenge low in the western twilight.

Venus:   After inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 4th of the month, Venus reenters the morning twilight taking its place once again as the "Morning Star". It will progress swiftly westward in relation to the Sun and by the middle of the month will be rising ninety minutes before the Sun. On the 12th Venus will be just north of the Hyades star cluster and in a position to give the Bull a new bright shiny eye. It will be joined by a thin waning crescent Moon on the 19th of June.


  Mars:    The red planet spends the best part of the month in Aquarius, moving into Pisces on the 26th of June where it will spend the last few days of the month. Mars rises just before midnight for most of the month as it continues its easterly journey against the background stars. The waning gibbous Moon will sit four degrees to the west of Mars on the 13th and on the 14th Mars and magnitude 7.9 Neptune will be less than two degrees apart. Viewed through a telescope the contrasting colours of the pair should be fairly obvious, Mars with its distinct orange glow and much fainter Neptune with its very subtle blue tinge.

  Jupiter and    Saturn:   The two gas giants spend the month less than six degrees apart, Jupiter in Sagittarius and Saturn just over the border in Capricornus. They are both exhibiting retrograde motion against the starry background at the moment but the movement is very slight and hard to notice from one night to the next. The waning gibbous Moon will be in the vicinity of the pair on the 8th and 9th of the month. Telescopically the pair are a feast, Jupiter with its ever changing Galilean moons and Saturn with its spectacular ring system.

   

Moon Phase for June 2020:

6th   13th  21st   28th  

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July 2020

    Mercury:    The smallest of the planets, Mercury begins the month a few days short of inferior conjunction with the Sun after which it returns once again to the morning dawn sky. It reaches its greatest western elongation from the Sun on July 23rd before setting out on its sunward journey toward superior conjunction with the Sun in the middle of August. The thin crescent of a waning Moon rises a few minutes before Mercury on the 19th of the month.

Venus:  At the beginning of July Venus rises two and a half hours before the Sun in close proximity to the Hyades star cluster marking the head of Taurus-The Bull. On the 12th Venus passes less than one degree to the north of Aldebaran, the star marking the angry eye of the bull and its brightest star. The contrasting orange of Aldebaran and brilliant white of Venus should be quite apparent. The waning crescent Moon joins Venus on the 17th of the month.

 Mars:   The red planet begins the month in Pisces, slipping into Cetus-The Whale on the 9th and back into Pisces on the 27th. It will rise around 11:30pm at the start of July and just over one hour earlier by month's end. The waning gibbous Moon joins Mars in Cetus on the 12th.

Jupiter and   Saturn:  The two gas giants travel the ecliptic in Sagittarius this month and are never more than eight degrees apart. Both planets are exhibiting retrograde motion and each reach opposition this month, Jupiter on the 14th and Saturn on the 21st. Saturn will be within two degrees of the Magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 for the entire month of July. The magnitude 14.26 dwarf planet Pluto will be a bit of a challenge but worth a try as it will be only forty one arcminutes to the south of Jupiter on the 1st of the month and within one degree until the 8th of the month. The full Moon pays the pair a visit on the 5th and 6th.

Moon Phase for July 2020:

5th   13th    21st   27th  

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August 2020

   Mercury. The inner planet rises one hour before the Sun as August begins but very quickly moves back toward the Sun attaining superior conjunction with the Sun on the 18th. It then moves once again into the evening twilight setting one hour later than the Sun by the end of the month. It is worth noting a few statistics relating to this strange and interesting little world. It has the greatest variation in temperature from day to night of all the planets with a daytime temperature of 430 degrees Celsius plummeting to minus 180 degrees Celsius in the night time. One year on Mercury is 88 Earth days long but from one sunup to the next is equivalent to 176 Earth days. Mercury's axial tilt to the plane of the solar system is almost zero resulting in the fact that the Sun never shines into some of its polar craters in which water ice has been detected.

Venus. The "Morning Star" rises in Taurus at the beginning of the month a little over three hours before the Sun. On the 2nd it passes two degrees to the north west of zeta Tauri, a blue-white star marking the tip of one of the horns of the bull. It crosses into Orion on the 6th and into Gemini on the 14th where it will spend the rest of the month. The thin crescent of a waning Moon joins Venus in the twins on the 16th.

   Mars. The red planet spends the month in Pisces where it rises just after 10:00pm in the middle of August. On the 9th and 10th Mars is joined by the waning gibbous Moon.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. Both these gas giants spend the month retrograding in Sagittarius and by the time the Sun has set they are high in the eastern sky. Both are noteworthy objects for observation, Jupiter with its dancing Galilean moons and Saturn with its spectacular ring system visible even in small telescopes. The 98 percent illuminated Moon sits between the two planets on the 2nd of the month.

Moon Phase for August 2020:

4th  12th  19th   26th  

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September 2020

   Mercury. The smallest planet begins the month setting one hour later than the Sun but by the end of the month will set a full two hours later than the sun and at a great position for observation. Mercury has a couple of interesting visitors this month. On the 19th the two day old crescent Moon sits six degrees to the north of the planet with Virgo's brightest star Spica four degrees to its west. On the 22nd Mercury moves to within half a degree of Spica and the colour contrast of the two should be quite apparent. Spica is blue-white eclipsing binary star 260 light years away. It is one of the few first magnitude stars, along with Antares and Regulus that are capable of being occulted by the Moon.


Venus. The brightest planet rises in Gemini two hours before the Sun at the beginning of September. It crosses into Cancer on the 4th where it encounters the Beehive star cluster and a waning crescent Moon on the 14th before slipping into Leo on the 24th of the month. On the last day of the month Venus will be situated less than four degrees to the west of Regulus, Leo's brightest star. At 85 light years distance this is a magnitude 1.4 blue-white star with a wide magnitude 7.6 companion.

   Mars. Rising at 9:20pm on the first day of September, Mars increases in brightness as the month progresses going from -1.82 to -2.48. The magnitude 3.9 star five degrees to the south east of Mars is alpha Piscium (Al Rischa) marking the tail of the fish. The planet is joined by a waning gibbous Moon on the 5th and 6th before beginning its retrograde motion against the background stars on the 10th of the month. By the end of the month Mars will rise above the eastern horizon around 7:15pm

  Jupiter and   Saturn. This pair of gas giants still occupies pride of place in Sagittarius this month. After sunset at the beginning of the month the pair will be high in the eastern sky and ideally situated for observation. Jupiter ceases its retrograde motion and starts its journey eastward against the background stars on the 13th and Saturn does the same on the 29th of the month. Several new moons have recently been discovered orbiting Jupiter bringing the total to seventy nine and twenty new moons have just been discovered orbiting Saturn bringing its total to eighty two. A waxing gibbous moon passes just over one degree to the south of Jupiter on the 25th and four degrees to the east of Saturn on the 26th.

Moon Phase for September 2020:

2nd   10th   17th    24th  

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October 2020

   Mercury. The inner planet will be an easy target for the first half of October setting two hours later than the Sun for the first few days of the month. It reaches its greatest point east of the Sun on the 2nd of the month when it again begins its journey back toward the Sun. It begins the month in Virgo, moving into Libra on the 8th for a brief visit and back into Virgo on the 20th by which time it will be getting lost in the glare of the Sun and very hard to spot. A very thin waxing crescent Moon will be a bit of a challenge to see when it is eight degrees above Mercury on the 18th.

Venus. The brightest planet begins the month in Leo just over two degrees to the west of Leo's brightest star, Regulus. On the 3rd Venus and Regulus are very close together separated only by six arcminutes. A thin waning crescent Moon passes five degrees to the north of Venus on the 14th before the planet crosses into Virgo on the 23rd of the month.

   Mars. Retrograding in Pisces for the entire month, the red planet rises around 7:00pm ant the beginning of the month but by month's end will rise almost two hours earlier. Earth makes its closest approach to Mars on the 7th when Mars will exhibit a disc diameter of 22.45 arcseconds. The almost full Moon joins Mars on the 2nd and 3rd of October.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two gas giants are still in Sagittarius and only seven degrees apart at the beginning of October. Because of Jupiter's faster orbit around the Sun, by the end of the month the pair is only five degrees from each other. By nightfall at the start of the month both planets have crossed the meridian and are high overhead and in a great position for observation. The waxing crescent Moon joins the two planets on the 22nd and 23rd of the month.

Moon Phase for October 2020:

02nd   10th  17th  23rd  31st (WA only)

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November 2020

   Mercury.  In the morning sky this month, and on the 11th at its greatest western elongation from the Sun, rises only fifty minutes before the Sun. Because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic to the horizon the planet will be hard to observe, hidden in the early morning twilight. On the morning of the 14th the thin crescent of a waning Moon will be two degrees to the north of Mercury.

 Venus. Also in the early morning sky and at the beginning of the month the "Morning Star" will rise ninety minutes before the Sun. It begins the month in Virgo, passing by Spica on the 16th and crossing into Libra on the 28th of the month. A waning crescent Moon sits less than four degrees to the north of the planet on November the 13th.

   Mars. The red planet spends the month in Pisces. It ceases its retrograde motion on the 16th and once again returns to its west to east motion against the background stars. After sunset at the beginning of the month it really stands out as a bright orange glow in the north eastern sky among the fainter stars of the fish. On the 25th and 26th the waxing gibbous Moon spends some time in the company of the planet.
  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two gas giants will be reasonably high in the western sky at the beginning of the month but get much closer to the western horizon by the end of the month. They begin the month five degrees apart but because of Jupiter's faster orbit around the Sun by the end of the month they will be separated by only two degrees. The thin crescent of a waxing Moon passes by the pair on the 19th of November.

Moon Phase for November 2020:

01st   08th  15th    22nd    30th (Blue Moon)

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December 2019

   Mercury. A clear low eastern horizon will be needed to observe Mercury this month. The smallest planet rises around one hour before the Sun for the first half of the month but after that rises too close to the Sun for safe observation.

Venus. The "Evening Star" begins the month in Sagittarius in one of the busiest parts of the Milky Way Galaxy. On its journey across Sagittarius, Venus encounters a few Messier objects, M28 on the 1st, M22 on the 2nd & 3rd and M75 on the 19th, the day before it moves into Capricornus. On the 11th Venus and Saturn will be less than two degrees apart. The thin crescent of a three day old waxing Moon perches two degrees above Venus on the 29th. For those who enjoy a challenge, 14th magnitude dwarf planet Pluto lurks just over a degree to the north of Venus on the 13th of the month. An eight inch or larger telescope will be needed for this task.

   Mars. The red planet, having just returned to the early morning sky, rises 90 minutes before the Sun at the start of December. It passes from Virgo into Libra on the 1st of the month where it will spend the entire month. By Month's end it will be rising over two hours prior to the Sun. Mars sits five degrees to the south of a waning crescent Moon on the 23rd of the month.

  Jupiter. At the beginning of the month Jupiter sets only ninety minutes later than the Sun and will set ever closer to the Sun as the month progresses. It will be in conjunction with the Sun on the 28th of December. Probably best left until toward the end of January when it will rise in the morning sky almost two hours before the Sun.

  Saturn. This month will be the last opportunity to observe Saturn for a couple of months. It sets three hours later than the Sun on the 1st of the month but moves swiftly into the glare of evening twilight as the month progresses. By the end of the month it will set only 45 minutes later than the Sun. Saturn will have a two degree encounter with the brighter Venus on the 10th and 11th of the month.

Moon Phase for December 2019:

01st  12th   19th  26th  

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