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 2021

   Mercury. The smallest of the planets is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 1st of the month prior to entering the western evening sky. It will have a close conjunction with Mars on the 19th when they are only seven arcminutes apart. On the 26th it transits from Leo into Virgo reaching its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 14th of September.

Venus. High in the western evening sky after sunset, the brightest planet sets two and half hours later than the sun at the beginning of the month. It begins the month in Leo moving in to Virgo where on the 11th it is visited by the thin waxing crescent Moon. Less than five degrees separate the two and makes for a nice spectacle in the evening sky.

   Mars. The red planet begins the month low in the western evening twilight in Leo and ninety arcminutes to the east of Regulus, Leo's brightest star. On the 19th tiny Mercury joins Mars but the conjunction is low in the west and requires a good western horizon for observation. By the end of the month Mars will be getting harder to see as it sets only fifty minutes later than the Sun.

  Jupiter   At the beginning of August Jupiter rises just prior to 7:00pm but by the end of the month will rise two hours earlier. It begins the month in Aquarius but its retrograde motion takes it back into Capricornus on the 19th where it spends the next few months. The bright full Moon sits less than five degrees to the east of Jupiter on the 22nd of August.

  Saturn. The magnificent ringed planet spends the month idling about in Capricornus where on 20th and 21st it is joined by the near full Moon. It rises at 5:21pm on the 1st of the month but by the end of the month will breach the eastern horizon a full two hours earlier. It reaches opposition on the 2nd of the month when the Earth and Saturn are on opposite sides of the Sun and depending on your horizons Saturn will be visible all night long.

Moon Phase for August 2021:

  8th    16th    22nd   30th

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September 2021

   Mercury. September this year is a great month for the observation of Mercury. Remaining in Virgo for the entire month, it reaches its greatest separation east of the Sun on the 14th when it sets over two hours later than the Sun. On the 21st of the month the tiny planet passes 90 arcminutes to the south of Virgo's brightest star, Spica. The brilliant white of Spica should be an obvious contrast against the subtle orange glow of Mercury shining half a magnitude brighter than the star. The two day old waxing crescent Moon passes just over six degrees to the north of Mercury on the 9th of the month.


Venus. The "Evening Star" begins the month in Virgo before crossing into Libra on the 18th of the month. On the 5th and 6th Venus passes less than two degrees to the north of Spica, Virgo's brightest star and on the 24th passes two degrees to the south of Zubenelgenubi, the second brightest star in Libra. On the 10th the four day old waxing crescent Moon makes a fine sight sitting four degrees to the north of the planet.

   Mars. The red planet is very low in the western sky after sunset so give Mars the flick this month as it is too close to the Sun for any useful observations.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. Rising around 3:00pm at the beginning of September, Saturn will be high in the eastern sky after the Sun has set. It can be found in the constellation of Capricornus where it resides at the moment with its giant companion Jupiter, which rises 90 minutes later. The pair are separated by seventeen degrees at the beginning of the month but because of Jupiter's more robust retrograde motion the pair will be two degrees closer to each other by the end of the month. A waxing gibbous Moon joins Saturn on the 17th and Jupiter on the 18th.

Moon Phase for September 2021:

7th    14th    21st    29th  

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October 2021

   Mercury. This small planet is only visible in the western twilight for the first few days of October. On the 2nd Mercury passes 90 arcminutes to the south of Virgo's brightest star, blue-white Spica. It sets 90 minutes later than the Sun on the first of the month but only ten days later, because of its 47km/second orbital speed around the Sun, will reach inferior conjunction with the Sun. The planet then enters the morning twilight and at month's end rises half an hour earlier than the Sun.

Venus. High in the western sky after sunset, the "morning star" begins the month in Libra crossing into Scorpius on the 8th and into Ophiuchus on the 22nd. On the 16th and 17th magnitude -4.3 Venus will be within two degrees of Scorpio's brightest star, the first magnitude Antares. Apart from the contrasting brightness of the pair the very different colours of the two should be unmistakable with the dull red of Antares contrasting the brilliant white of Venus. The red giant Antares varies in brightness over a five year period between 0.9 and 1.1 and occasionally fainter. A thin waxing crescent Moon will be 8 degrees to the west of Venus on the 9th and six degrees to the east of the planet the 10th of the month.

   Mars. As it is in conjunction with the Sun on the 8th of the month, Mars will not be observable until next month when it will appear in the early morning twilight.

  Jupiter and   Saturn. This is great month to observe these two giants of the solar system. Both planets are situated in Capricornus for the month and are separated by just over fifteen degrees for most of the month. After the Sun has set at the beginning of the month they can be found high in the northern sky straddling the meridian and ideally placed for observation. The waxing gibbous Moon sits less than four degrees to the south of Saturn on the 14th and less than four degrees to the south of Jupiter the next evening.

Moon Phase for October 2021:

  6th   13th   21st    29th 

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November 2021

   Mercury.  This is not the month to be attempting to observe Mercury. At its best on the 1st of the month it rises less than 30 minutes earlier than the Sun and hidden in the early morning twilight. It reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 29th of the month.

 Venus. High in the western evening sky in Ophiuchus after sunset on the 1st of November. The "Evening Star" moves into Sagittarius on the 2nd of the month. It passes half a degree to the north of eight magnitude open star cluster NGC 6520 on the 6th and two degrees to the south of magnitude 6.9 globular star cluster M28 on the 11th. Continuing its journey across the "Teapot" asterism of Sagittarius it passes three degrees to the south of 5.1 magnitude globular cluster M22 on the 14th before a close conjunction with 2.1 magnitude Nunki (sigma Sagittarii), when on the 19th and 20th less than half a degree separates the pair. On the 8th the four day old crescent of a waxing Moon makes an impressive sight less than two degrees to the north of Venus.

   Mars. Having just entered the early morning sky after conjunction with the Sun on the 10th of last month, Mars is probably best left alone until the end of November when it will rise one hour before the Sun but still in the slight glare the of early morning twilight.
  Jupiter and   Saturn. Both giant planets remain in Capricornus this month and high in the north-western sky after the Sun has set. Saturn crosses the meridian at 7:00pm on the 1st of the month followed by Jupiter on the 18th. On the 11th the first quarter Moon lies above the two planets and by the end of the month Venus makes a line with Saturn & Jupiter in the early western sky.

Moon Phase for November 2021:

5th    11th    19th    27th 

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December 2021

   Mercury and  Venus. Returning to the evening sky this month, Mercury will be hidden in the evening twilight until toward the end of the month. On the 29th it will be located four degrees to the south of the much brighter Venus with both setting around one hour later than the Sun. The contrasting colours of the pair will then be quite apparent given their proximity to each other. For those with larger aperture telescopes who enjoy a challenge magnitude 14 Pluto will be only six arcminutes to the east of Venus on the 11th. The three day old waxing crescent Moon pays Venus a visit on the 7th of the month.

   Mars. Having just returned to the eastern morning sky, Mars will be rising one hour before the Sun as December begins but may be a little hard to spot in the morning twilight until later in the month. It crosses the border from Libra into Scorpio on the 16th meeting up with beta Scorpii on the 18th and 19th. Beta Scorpii (Graffias) is a striking double star 540 light years away divisible in small telescopes, consisting of blue-white stars of magnitudes 2.6 and 4.9. After passing into Ophiuchus, Mars will be in conjunction with its rival Antares on the 27th with the planet of similar colour but a little fainter than the star. The thin crescent of a waning Moon joins Mars on the 3rd of the month.
  Jupiter and   Saturn. The two gas giants are high in the north western sky after sunset at the beginning of December and both still in Capricornus. Jupiter however will cross into Aquarius toward the middle of the month when Saturn will be setting three hours later than the Sun and Jupiter one hour later, A thin waxing crescent Moon joins Saturn on the 8th and Jupiter the next evening.

Moon Phase for December 2021:

4th   11th  19th   27th 




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