What the Planets are doing this month


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January 2021

   Mercury. The inner planet reaches it greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 24th of the month when it will be setting one hour later than the Sun. On the 10th and 11th Mercury will be in close conjunction with Saturn and Jupiter but partially hidden in the western twilight. The very slender crescent of the one day old Moon joins Mercury on the 14th and will also be hard to spot in the bright western twilight sky.

Venus. Located in the early morning sky, Venus rises 90 minutes before the Sun on the 1st of the month but by month’s end will cross the eastern horizon only one hour prior to the Sun. It begins the month in Ophiuchus; crossing into Sagittarius on the 7th where it will spend the rest of the month. For those who enjoy a challenge magnitude 14.4 dwarf planet Pluto will be just 45 arcminutes to the south of Venus on the 29th but an extremely difficult target in the brightening morning twilight.

   Mars. The red planet crosses the meridian around 8pm on New Years day. It starts the month in Pisces and moves into Aries on the 6th where it will spend the rest of the month. Mars will stand out with its ruddy glow in an area mainly devoid of bright stars. On the 20th it will be less than two degrees to the north of magnitude 5.7 Uranus and the pair will be joined by the first quarter Moon the next evening. On this evening the three will be in a line with Uranus nestled between the other two bodies. They cover only four degrees so will all be visible together in the same field of a pair of binoculars.

  Jupiter and   Saturn.  After their extremely close conjunction with each other on the 21st of last month the pair are gradually sinking into the western twilight. Saturn reaches conjunction with the Sun on the 24th and Jupiter follows on the 29th of the month. They both return to the early morning sky next month.

Moon Phase for January 2021:

  6th,  13th,   21st,   29th.

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February 2021 

   Mercury. The elusive Mercury moves into the morning sky on the 9th but too close to the Sun for safe observation until about the middle of February. It passes four degrees to the north of Jupiter in the early morning twilight on the 15th when the pair are rising just one hour before the Sun. On the 22nd the smallest planet can be found midway between the large gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

Venus. The "Morning Star" is heading back toward the sun for its inferior conjunction with the Sun late next month. It will have a close encounter with Saturn on the 6th and another with Jupiter on the 12th but both of these events occur in the bright morning twilight and not easily observable.

   Mars.  The red planet spends most of the month traveling across Aries until it crosses into Taurus on the 25th. It finishes the month three degree to the south-west of the Pleiades star cluster. The waxing crescent Moon pays Mars a visit on the 19th of the month.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two gas giants have just returned to the morning sky and best left alone until at least the middle of the month. Saturn will be in conjunction with Venus on the 6th and Jupiter has the same experience on the 12th. Extreme caution should be used if trying to observe these events telescopically or with binoculars because of their proximity to the Sun. By the end of the month Saturn will be rising almost two hours before the Sun and Jupiter over one and a half hours before the Sun. Look for Mercury situated between the two gas giants.

Moon Phase for February 2021:

5th,    12th,   20th,   27th   

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March 2021

   Mercury. Rising two hours before the Sun on 1st of March, Mercury finds itself wedged between the giant planets Jupiter & Saturn. On its journey back toward the Sun it passes within half a degree of Jupiter on the 5th and 6th creating an interesting spectacle for the early risers. On the 11th a thin waning crescent Moon forms an interesting triangle with the two planets, the trio being separated from each other by just over four degrees. On the last two days of the month Mercury pays a close visit to eighth magnitude Neptune although the pair could be a bit if a challenge in the early morning twilight.
 
Venus. Give Venus the flick this month as it is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 26th and too close to the Sun to observe for the entire month.

   Mars.  The red planet spends the month in Taurus and for the first week, within three degrees of the Pleiades star cluster. Mars sits within seven degrees of magnitude 0.9 Aldebaran, the angry eye of the bull on the 21st. The pair shares a very similar reddish colour although Mars at magnitude 1.18 is slightly fainter than the star. The waxing crescent Moon slips past Mars on the 19th and 20th of the month.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two giants have now returned to the early morning sky and at the beginning of the month are separated by only eight degrees. By the end of the month because of Jupiter’s faster orbit around the Sun the pair will be twelve degrees apart. On the 1st Saturn rises at 4:18pm and Jupiter forty minutes later. However, by the end of March Saturn will rise around 1:34am and Jupiter at 2:30am. Both planets spend the month in Capricorn where they are visited by the waning crescent Moon on the 10th and 11th of the month.

Moon Phase for March 2021:

6th   13th  22nd    29th  

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April 2021

   Mercury. In the early morning twilight, the inner planet will only be safely visible for observation for the first few days of April as it heads back toward the Sun for its superior conjunction with the Sun on the 19th of the month. It then moves into the early evening sky, setting only thirty minutes later than the Sun by the end of the month.

Venus. Too close to the Sun for safe observation this month.

   Mars. The red planet begins the month in Taurus, just under ten degrees to the east of Aldebaran, the star marking the angry eye of the bull. They both exhibit their typical faint red tinge with Mars the slightly fainter of the two. On the 2nd and 3rd Mars passes half a degree from NGC 1746 a 6th magnitude asterism just over 2000 light years away. On the 24th of the month Mars moves into Gemini where on the 27th it has a close encounter with magnitude 5.1 M35, an open cluster consisting of around 120 stars 2,500 light years away. Less than half a degree away lies the magnitude 8.6 open cluster NGC 2158 which is actually 14,000 light years further out. On the 17th the waxing crescent Moon pays Mars a visit.

  Jupiter and   Saturn.  Both the giant planets begin the month in Capricornus with Jupiter moving into Aquarius on the 26th of April. Saturn rises at 1:30am at the beginning of the month with Jupiter joining it one hour later. By the end of the month Saturn will cross the eastern horizon at 11:40pm followed by Jupiter just after midnight at 12:57am. A waning crescent Moon sits midway between the pair in the 7th of the month.

Moon Phase for April 2021:

4th   12th   20th    27th  

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May 2021

   Mercury and  Venus. Both inferior planets have just returned to the western evening sky. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 17th of the month setting just over an hour later than the Sun. The two planets have a close conjunction on the 29th when the pair are separated by less than one degree. On that date the two planets are less than two degrees to the north of the celebrated magnitude 8.4 Crab Nebula. The very thin crescent of a waxing Moon is situated between the pair on the 13th of the month.

   Mars. The new home of the Perseverance Rover sits high above the north western horizon after the Sun has set at the beginning of May. It will then be setting around 8:40pm but by the end of the month will be setting 30 minutes earlier. It spends the month traveling through Gemini and by the end of the month forms a very flat triangle with Gemini's brightest stars, Pollux and Caster. The four day old waxing crescent Moon joins Mars on the 16th.

  Jupiter. Now in Aquarius, Jupiter rises around 1:00am at the beginning of the month but by month's end crosses the eastern horizon almost two hours earlier. It is very easy to spot among the faint star fields of that part of the sky and it is always interesting to watch the dance of its Galilean Moons. The waning crescent Moon passes by Jupiter on the 5th and 6th of the month.

  Saturn. Still lounging around in Capricornus, Saturn is readily identified by its subtle yellow tinge. It rises at 11:30pm at the beginning of the month and by the end of the month will rise almost two hours earlier. The earth will view the rings edge on in 2025 and they will appear to disappear from out perspective. The first Quarter Moon will be four degrees to the south of Saturn on May 4th.

Moon Phase for May 2021:

4th   12th   20th   26th  

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June 2021


   Mercury:    Setting less than one hour later than the Sun on the 1st of the month, Mercury quickly heads toward inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 11th of the month. It emerges in the morning sky in Taurus and by the end of the month will be rising 90 minutes before the Sun. On the 23rd it makes a reasonably close approach to magnitude 0.9 Aldebaran when just over six degrees separate the pair. Aldebaran, marking the angry red eye of the bull is the brightest star in Taurus and is a red giant forty four times the radius of the Sun, and resides 68 light years away.

Venus:    Making a return to the evening twilight sky this month, Venus once again claims the title of the “Evening Star”. It begins the month in Taurus setting a little over an hour later than the Sun before crossing into Gemini on the 2nd of the month. Most of the month is spent transiting Gemini until moving into Cancer on the 26th. It ends the month four degrees to the west of M44, the Beehive star cluster and setting two hours later than the Sun. The two day old waxing crescent Moon makes an impressive appearance two degrees to the west of Venus on the 12th of the month.

  Mars:    At magnitude 1.8, Mars begins the month high in the north western sky in Gemini before moving into cancer on the 9th of the month. On the 23rd and 24th the red planet gets tangled up with the stars of M44, the Beehive cluster and should make an interesting spectacle even with a pair of binoculars. The thin crescent of a waxing Moon joins Mars in Cancer on the 14th of June.

  Jupiter The largest of the planets rises around 11:00pm as June begins but by the end of the month will rise a full two hours earlier. Glowing at around magnitude -2.5 for the entire month Jupiter presents as a very bright beacon among the faint star fields of Aquarius. It appears to stand still in relation to the background stars on the 21st before beginning a retrograde motion lasting four months. The bright waning 81% lit gibbous Moon pays Jupiter a visit on the 29th of the month.

  Saturn:   The brightest object in Capricornus, Saturn stands out against the constellation’s faint background stars and is obvious with its faint golden hue. It rises around 9:30pm at the beginning of June but by the end of the month will cross the eastern horizon two hours earlier. Saturn is retrograding against the background stars at the moment. It begins the month forty arcminutes to the west of theta Capricorni and by the end of the month has moved a further degree to the west of the star. The Moon visits Saturn twice this month, once on the 1st of the month and again on the 29th.

   

Moon Phase for June 2021:

  2nd  10th   18th   25th 

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July 2021

    Mercury:    In the morning sky at the moment but only visible for the first half of the month. Mercury rises ninety minutes before the Sun as July begins but as the month progresses it moves back toward the Sun and gets lost in the early morning twilight. On the 8th the thin crescent of a waning Moon pays the planet a visit, the pair being separated by less than five degrees. Extreme caution should be used when observing objects this close to the Sun with binoculars or a telescope.

Venus and   Mars:   At the onset of July the "Evening Star" is hard to miss in the constellation of the Crab in the western evening sky after the Sun has set. It sets two hours later than the sun at the beginning of the month but a further thirty minutes later than the Sun by the end of the month. On the 3rd the planet has a close encounter with M44, the Beehive star cluster before crossing into Leo on the 12th and a close conjunction with Mars on the 13th when only half a degree splits the two planets. Venus has a close encounter with magnitude 1.4 Regulus, Leo's brightest star on the 22nd when the two are only one degree apart. At magnitude -3.39 brilliant Venus really outshines the star. The two day old waxing crescent Moon sits five degrees to the north-west of Venus and Mars on the 12th of July.

Jupiter:  The king of the planets rises at 9:00pm at the beginning of the month but will cross the eastern horizon two hours earlier than that by the end of the month. In Aquarius at the moment its retrograde motion is slowly taking it back toward Capricornus and its fellow giant, Saturn. The Moon passes by Jupiter on the 25th and 26th of the month.

  Saturn:  The ringed planet rises at 7:30pm at the beginning of July but by the end of the month will rise two hours earlier and ideally situated for observation. With its yellowish tinge it is by far the brightest object in Capricornus until it is joined by the full Moon on the 24th.

Moon Phase for July 2021:

  2nd   10th   17th   24th    31st  

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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 2020

   Mercury. December is not a good month to be observing Mercury. It resides in the morning twilight at the start of the month and at its best rises only thirty five minutes before the Sun. It reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 20th and moves into the western evening twilight sky.

Venus. The "Morning Star" begins the month in Libra rising around ninety minutes before the Sun on the 1st of the month. On the 4th it passes just over one degree to the north of Zubenelgenubi, Libra's second brightest star. This star is a binocular double consisting of a blue-white star of magnitude 2.8 with a white companion of magnitude 5.2. On its journey back toward the Sun Venus moves into Scorpius on the 18th with an encounter with Antares on the 24th when the pair will be just over five degrees apart. The contrasting colours of the pair will be obvious with the brilliant white of Venus and ruddy glow of the red giant Antares. The thin waning crescent Moon will be less than two degrees to the north of the planet on the 13th of the month.

   Mars. Rising just before 4pm at the beginning of December, Mars will be high in the north eastern sky by the time the Sun has set. Its ruddy glow is unmissable as it outshines the faint stars of Pisces where it will spend the entire month. The waxing gibbous Moon will be in the neighborhood of Mars on the 23rd and 24th of the month.
  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two gas giants are set for a spectacular conjunction this month and the event should not be missed. The pair begins the month in Sagittarius with just over two degrees separating them. The distance between the two slowly diminishes until on the 21st they are only six arcminutes apart and visible in the same field of a telescope. A thin waxing crescent Moon joins the two planets on the 17th of December.

Moon Phase for December 2020:

8th  15th   22nd  30th  




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