What Are Those Three Bright ‘Stars’ Visible At Dusk Each Night? This Is What You’re Seeing

How to see Jupiter, Saturn and Mars at dusk this week.

How to see Jupiter, Saturn and Mars at dusk this week.

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Get outside at dusk anytime this month and, if the skies are clear, you’ll see three bright points of light. You’ve probably already seen them and wondered what they are.

Are you seeing stars? No—they are all planets. 

Here’s a quick guide to what you’re seeing and where, but hurry. While these planets are currently dominating dusk, they are all now past their best and will, in the coming weeks, get dimmer as our planet moves away from them in its orbit of the Sun. 

Mars in small telescope during the approach of the planet on September 2020.

Mars in small telescope during the approach of the planet on September 2020.

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What is that bright ‘star’ in the east after sunset?

It’s the beautiful red planet Mars. Look again and you’ll notice its rosy red tinge. The second smallest planet in our Solar System is an incredible sight this month not least because what you’re looking at is sunlight reflecting off the dusty Martian surface that contains a lot of iron oxide. That’s exactly the same compound found in rust. And blood. 

Mars will get higher and more southerly as the evening wears on. By midnight, the planet will be high in the south. 

Mars only gets close to Earth every two years, but technically speaking it won’t look this good from the northern hemisphere until 2052.

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Artwork of Jupiter and its largest four (Galilean) moons Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.

Artwork of Jupiter and its largest four (Galilean) moons Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.

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What are those two bright ‘stars’ in the south after sunset?

Turn you gaze south-southwest at dusk and you’ll see the two biggest planets in the Solar System—Jupiter and Saturn. They’ve appeared to be relatively close to each other for most of 2020 near the constellation of Sagittarius, but they now appear to be getting closer each night. In fact, while summer saw them about 8º apart—roughly the width of your outstretched fist if you hold it against the sky—their apparent distance from each other is now down to barely 4.5º. 

You can guess what’s coming next—a spectacularly close “great conjunction” on the date of the solstice, December 21, 2020.

During that rare event the two giants will appear just 0.06º from each other, so appear virtually as one. In fact, just a few days ago Jupiter and Saturn came to heliocentric conjunction

MORE FROM FORBESThis Week Jupiter Aligns With Saturn. What Happens Next Will Be A Once-In-A-Lifetime Sky Event

Their “great conjunction” is going to be the view of the year, celestially-speaking, but until then you can get some good views of them inching closer to one another through November and December. 

You’ll notice that Saturn is far dimmer than Jupiter; the ringed planet is actually 10 times less bright, and you’re only going to glimpse its rings if you use a small telescope.

Jupiter is much easier to see with lesser equipment. Though its pink bands are viewable only in a small telescope, you can see its four large moons—Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto—through any pair of binoculars. 

Look for Mercury below Venus before sunrise this week.

Look for Mercury below Venus before sunrise this week.

AFP via Getty Images

How to see Venus and Mercury this week

Jupiter, Saturn and Mars might dominate the post-sunset skies this month, but there’s another incredibly bright planet you can see if you’re prepared to get up early. Look east-southeast in the hour or two before sunrise and you’ll see bright white Venus shining about as bright as Mars is in the evening sky. 

This week Venus is joined by little planet Mercury, which barely ever gets far enough from the Sun for us to see easily. This coming Tuesday, November 10, 2020 sees Mercury reach what astronomers call its “greatest western elongation.” Look for it below and slightly east of Venus. 

Come back on Friday, November 13 and you’ll be able to see Mercury and Venus with a slender 11%-lit waning crescent Moon close by.

The planets are certainly putting on a show as 2020 draws to a close.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. 

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