Utah Skies: The Moon, Jupiter And Mercury

Jan 13, 2021

Credit Stellarium Planetarium App

During the past few months sky watchers have been treated with an evening planetary show compliments of Jupiter and Saturn. Because Saturn is farther away from Jupiter, Jupiter’s orbit is

small and it is able to come from behind and eventually pass Saturn. This rare event took place Dec. 21 in the western skies after sunset.

Both planets are still there but they set very soon after sunset and soon they will be lost in the Sun’s glare by the end of January only to reappear in the morning sky in February.

Before we lose Jupiter and Saturn to the Sun’s bright glare, the tiny planet Mercury joined the pair
on Jan. 9. Faster moving Mercury has moved from just below Jupiter on the 9th to the upper left of Jupiter by Jan. 14. So now by looking in the south-southwest  you can see all three planets.

You need a clear sky and low horizon

A new moon occurs on Jan. 13, when the moon is located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and is not visible. By Jan. 14 while Mercury and Jupiter are seen setting in the south-western sky just after sunset the thin crescent one day old moon joins them. The crescent Moon will be located about a fist’s diameter to the upper left of Jupiter, fainter Mercury lies between the moon and Jupiter. Mercury will continue to climb higher until Jan. 23 when it reaches highest in the sky.

The best time to view these three objects is between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Jupiter sets first, followed by Mercury, and then the Moon. 

Don’t forget to bring along a pair of binoculars to help you watch this visually pleasing sky event.