2017, January 1: Jupiter and Spica


On this New Year’s morning, Jupiter and Spica appear in the southern sky.  Jupiter is about 4.5 degrees above Spica this morning.  Jupiter passes 3.5 degrees from Spica on January 20 for their first conjunction of Jupiter’s current appearance.

More articles about the planets and their current visibilities in 2017:

2016: November Planets


During a recent trip to the Phoenix, Arizona area, clear skies offered excellent views of the planets.  The above image shows bright Jupiter in the predawn eastern sky.  It rises earlier each morning appearing higher in the sky at the same time.



Venus and Mars appear in the southwest during the early evening hours.  On the above image, the pair is 34 degrees apart.  For the Mars-Venus encounter, see the link at the top of this page.

2016 November 4: Jupiter


Jupiter shines brightly from the east-southeastern sky this morning as seen from the Chicago area. It rises about 2.5 hours before the sun appearing low in the eastern sky as daylight approaches.

2017: Evening Planets


(All charts and times are calculated for Chicago, Illinois in the Central Time zone.)

The evening sky in 2017 presents the five naked eye planets for easy viewing.  The year begins with Venus and Mars shining brightly in the western sky during early evening hours.

The chart above shows the times that planets, moon, and bright stars, near the plane of the solar system, set compared to sunset.  This activity occurs in the western sky.  Moon set is represented by circles;  two days each lunar cycle are labelled with their dates.  The exceptions are the Jupiter Rises and Saturn Rises lines.  Their graphs indicate when those two planets rise in the eastern sky.  When the planets rise at sunset earth is between the planet and the sun.  The planet is at opposition.  When the sun sets in the west, the planet rises in the east.  The planet is south at midnight and sets in the west at sunrise.  Jupiter is at opposition on April 7, Saturn on June 15.

Venus and Mars


These two planets are well placed in the western evening sky for easy observation on New Years Day. Venus sets nearly 4 hours after sunset and Mars follows about an hour later.  Venus and the Moon are 4 degrees apart with Mars about 12 degrees to the upper left of Venus. During January, Venus and Mars appear to move closer together as the setting lines of the two planets begin to converge.

On January 12, Venus reaches is greatest angular separation from the sun (47 degrees) and sets 4 hours after the sun.

On February 3, 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.  On this date, Venus enters a 30-day period when it is at its maximum brightness with the greatest brilliance date of February 17.  Venus dazzles the late winter sky in the west with the bright stars of Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Auriga shining in the southern sky.

The planets then separate with Venus rapidly moving into the sun’s brilliant glare passing its solar inferior conjunction on March 25 and moving into the morning sky.

Mars is on a slow trail of descent into the sun’s glare that ends at conjunction on July 26 and the planet enters the morning sky.

On March 1, the moon appears 5 degrees to the lower left of Mars with Venus 13 degrees to the lower right of Mars.

In late April, Mars moves through the region of the sky with Aldebaran (Taurus) and two bright star clusters (Pleiades and Hyades).  This article explains more about Mars’ movement and the Venus-Mars encounter.


Mercury’s best evening appearance of the year occurs during Spring this year.  On April 1, this speedy planet reaches its greatest angular separation from the sun (19 degrees) and sets 100 minutes after sunset.


A few nights earlier, the waxing crescent moon appears 10 degrees to the left of Mercury and Mars is 16 degrees to the upper left of Mercury.  (The chart shows the sky 70 minutes after sunset.  For other observers at mid-northern latitudes determine your local sunset time and 70 minutes to get a similar view.)  At this time Mercury is less than 6 degrees in altitude.  Find a clear horizon, free from houses, buildings and trees.  Use binoculars to locate Mercury; then locate it without optical aid.


Jupiter enters the evening sky in the east when it appears at opposition on April 7.  During the spring it appears in the eastern evening sky.  It “enters” the setting chart shown at the top of this article on June 22 when it sets 5 hours after sunset.  Jupiter is near the bright star Spica.  This article provides more details about its conjunctions with Spica during its 2016-2017 appearance.

A conjunction occurs as Jupiter and Spica disappear into the sun’s glare as Jupiter heads for its solar conjunction (October 27).   At the planet-star conjunction, shown in the chart above, the objects are separated by 3.3 degrees.


On the planet setting chart, the “Saturn Rises” circles indicate that the planet is rising in the east at those times.  When it rises in the east at sunset, it is at opposition.


Saturn appears in the south during the mid-summer evenings.  On August 2, the waxing gibbous moon appears about 4 degrees from the Ringed Wonder and Antares is about 13 degrees away from the planet.

The Saturn setting line then enters the chart again in early September when it is setting less than 5 hours after sunset.


On November 20, the waxing crescent moon appears near Saturn when the pair is low in the west, setting abut 110 minutes after sunset.

Other dates when the moon appears near Saturn:

  • August 29
  • October 23


NASA Photo

NASA Photo

Full Moon Dates (Central Time)

  1. January 12
  2. February 10
  3. March 12
  4. April 11
  5. May 10
  6. June 9
  7. July 8
  8. August 7
  9. September 6
  10. October 5
  11. November 4
  12. December 3

As a closing note:  In the U.S. Daylight Saving Time runs from March 12 (2 .m. local time set clocks forward) to November 5 (2 a.m. local time set times back).

End Notes: Twilight Definitions

Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.

Nautical twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening, when the center of the sun is  12 degrees below the horizon. At the beginning or end of nautical twilight, under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other lighting, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable. During nautical twilight the illumination level is such that the horizon is still visible even on a Moonless night.

Astronomical twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. Before the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning and after the end of astronomical twilight in the evening, light from the Sun is less than that from starlight and other natural sources. For a considerable interval after the beginning of morning twilight and before the end of evening twilight, sky illumination is so faint that it is practically imperceptible. (Source)

2016: November Sky Watching

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The sun rises south of east and sets south of west during November.  The chart about shows the length of daylight throughout the year — the red line.  The blue area shows the length daylight during November.  The mid-northern latitudes lose nearly an hour of daylight during the month.


NASA Photo

NASA Photo

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
First Quarter 11/07/16 (1:51 p.m.) 12:42 p.m. 11:23 p.m.
Full Moon 11/14/16 (7:52 p.m.) 5:08 p.m. 7:39 a.m. (11/15)
Last Quarter 11/21/16 (2:33 a.m.) 11:05 p.m. (11/20) 12:46 p.m.
New Moon 11/29/16 (6:18 a.m.) 6:46 a.m. 4:57 p.m.
Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations.
(For mjb & afb)

The Supermoon idea is not an astronomical concept and it appears to have originated in 1979.  This is described to when the moon appears at its full phase when it is at its nearest point to earth (perigee).  At this supermoon, the moon reaches perigee nearly 3 hours before it is opposite the sun at its full phase brilliance.  The result is that it appears brighter (although nearly imperceptible) in the sky and about 14% larger than the typical full moon, again not noticeable for most of us.

The moon appears larger when near the horizon and this does not cause a supermoon.  The moon illusion is explained in several ways.  Here’s a way to measure the size of the moon when near the horizon and then higher in the sky.  Locate the moon and extend your  arm.  Notice that the tip of your little finger covers the moon.  Try the same again when the moon is higher in the sky.  Compare the two views.

Morning Sky

Jupiter is the bright “star” in the eastern sky as the sky brightens.  On November 1, Jupiter rises 2 hours, 15 minutes before the sun.  As the month progresses it rises earlier each morning.  By month’s end Jupiter rises nearly 4 hours, 30 minutes before sunrise.


At mid-month, Spica appears about 10 degrees below Jupiter.



Jupiter, Spica and the moon.  The moon is 7 degrees from Jupiter and Jupiter is 9 degrees from Spica


Jupiter, Spica and the moon.  The moon is 5 degrees from Jupiter and Jupiter is 9 degrees from Spica.

On the mornings of November 24 and 25, the moon appears near Jupiter and Spica.

Evening Sky

Venus dominates the western early evening sky.  On November 1, it sets about 2 hours after the sun and 3 hours after the sun at month’s end.  Mars and Saturn also appear with Venus in the western sky early in the month.


On the evening of November 2, the moon appears near Saturn and Venus.  Venus is 6.5 degrees from the moon and 5 degrees from Saturn.  Mars appears over 36 degrees to the upper left of Venus.


A few nights later, the moon appears 7 degrees to the upper left of Mars.  Venus is 35 degrees to the lower right of Mars and Saturn is 8 degrees Venus.


Venus and Mars move quickly eastward among the stars and Saturn disappears into the sun’s brilliant glare.  By month’s end, Venus and Mars are 25 degrees apart.

Mercury passed superior conjunction on October 27 and is moving into the evening sky.  More about it next month.

For more details about Jupiter, Spica, Mars and Venus, see the articles linked at the top.

2016, October 28: Jupiter & Moon


Jupiter and the waning crescent moon shine from the eastern sky this morning at 6:30 a.m. CDT as seen from the Chicago area. This morning they are about 1.5 degrees apart.

Notice the “Earthshine” on the night portion of the moon.  Sunlight reflects from our planet and gently illuminates the lunar night.

This morning the star Gamma Virginis is about 1.5 degrees from Jupiter.

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2016, October 28: Jupiter and the Moon


 On the morning of October 28, Jupiter passes the star Gamma Virginis and the waning crescent moon is about 1.5 degrees from Jupiter.  Look in the southeast at about 6:30 a.m. CDT in the Chicago area.  In your location check about 50 minutes before sunrise.

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