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Planets visible to the naked eye

  • Photo: Sophie Desrosiers
    Planets visible to the naked eye

    From November 30 to December 14, 2020

    Mercury is now too close to the Sun at dawn and is not easily visible. The tiny planet passes behind the Sun (superior conjunction) on December 19, and will undergo a very good evening apparition from January 10 to 31.

    Venus is the dazzling Morning Star that shines brightly in the east-southeast at the very end of the night and at dawn. The gap between Venus and the Sun is slowly decreasing: the planet emerges after 5:30 a.m. and reaches about 15 degrees above the southeastern horizon before sunrise. On the morning of December 12, the thin, waning crescent Moon hangs 4 ½ degrees to the upper right of Venus.

    Mars is receding from Earth, but it’s still remarkably bright. The Red Planet is now best seen in the evening sky: It appears at dusk about 30 degrees high in the east-southeast, culminates more than 50 degrees high in the south around 8:00 p.m., and sets in the west after 2:00 a.m. During the evening of January 20, the first quarter Moon moves within 6 degrees below Mars. At dusk on the following day, January 20, the waxing gibbous Moon shines 7 ½ degrees to the lower left of the Red Planet.

    Jupiter appears during evening twilight slightly more than 15 degrees high in the south-southwest. The bright Giant Planet sets in the southwest after 7:00 p.m. Note the presence of Saturn, to its upper left, and keep an eye on the gap between the two planets as it shrinks from day to day: On December 21, they’ll be barely one tenth of a degree apart! On December 16, at dusk, the very thin crescent Moon lies 6 degrees below Jupiter and Saturn. The next evening, December 17, the lunar crescent shines 9 degrees left of the planetary duo.

    Saturn appears in the south-southwest during evening twilight, slightly less than 20 degrees above the horizon, to the upper left of very bright Jupiter. Note how the gap between the two planets is shrinking from day to day: On December 21, they’ll be barely one tenth of a degree apart! The pair of planets sets in the southwest after 7:00 p.m. On December 16, at dusk, the very thin crescent Moon lies 6 degrees below Jupiter and Saturn. The next evening, December 17, the lunar crescent shines 9 degrees left of the planetary duo.

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