Astronomy Essentials

Visible planets – and more – in late September and October 2021

Find these visible planets in late September and October 2021: Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Uranus

Try Stellarium for a precise view from your location.

For more specific information on planet rise and set times from your location, consult either The Old Farmer’s Almanac (U.S. and Canada) or (worldwide); or see EarthSky’s list of recommended almanacs.

Visible planets, the moon and more

Person standing watching hazy triangular area of light from horizon to near zenith.
Beginning in September and throughout the autumn months, watch for the zodiacal light before sunrise. The zodiacal light will appear as a pyramid of light on the eastern horizon, before true dawn, in a dark sky. It’s sometimes called the “false dawn.” This eerie light is sunlight reflecting from dust grains that move in the plane of our solar system. Southern Hemisphere? Look west after sunset for the zodiacal light in spring. Image via our friend Jeff Dai.
Star chart with the star Fomalhaut and planets Jupiter and Saturn.
In northern autumn 2021, the bright, solitary star Fomalhaut will appear near the brighter planets Jupiter and Saturn. Look southward from the Northern Hemisphere. Look high in the sky (in southern spring 2021) from the Southern Hemisphere. Read more.
Sky chart showing the moon and Venus.
Use this sky chart to locate the moon and Venus low in the west after sunset on October 7, 8, 9 and 10, 2021. Can you also see the bright star Antares in Scorpius, one more time before it sweeps into the sunset glare?
Moon, Jupiter, Saturn: Sky chart showing the Moon's position on October 13, 14 and 15, 2021
Look southward from the Northern Hemisphere (closer to overhead from the Southern Hemisphere) to watch the moon, Jupiter, Saturn on October 13 to October 15, 2021. First quarter moon is October 12-13 (3:35 UTC on October 13). The moon will pass Saturn 4 degrees S. of Saturn on October 14 at 7 UTC. It will pass 4 degrees S. of Jupiter on October 15 at 10 UTC.
Giant pink moon over many-windowed flat roof building with autumn trees in foreground.
The Hunter’s Moob is the full moon after the Harvest Moon (which is the full moon nearest the September equinox). This 2017 Hunter’s Moon, over Bloomington, Indiana, is via Ken Meadows.

Hunter’s Moon October 20, 2021

In western skylore, the Hunter’s Moon is name for the full moon following the Harvest Moon. It’s usually in October, but in some years falls in early November. In 2021, October’s full will rise on October 20 for most of the world. We in the Northern Hemisphere will call it our Hunter’s Moon.

Planets in late September and October 2021

Also see the indispensable Observer’s Handbook, from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Jupiter and Saturn appeared so close together in December 2020 that they made headlines around the world. Astronomers called their meeting a great conjunction. Throughout 2021, Jupiter have been moving eastward of Saturn. It’s shifting away from Saturn as it pursues its smaller orbit around the sun (12 years for one orbit, in contrast to Saturn’s 29 years). But, as seen from Earth, these two worlds still appear in near each other in our sky. Jupiter is much brighter of the two, brighter than all the stars. And so you can notice Jupiter easily along the ecliptic, or sun’s path, throughout the evening, throughout October 2021. How to recognize Saturn? Saturn is the brightest “star” within one fist-width of Jupiter (to the right as seen from the Northern Hemisphere, and to the left from south on the globe). Saturn is brighter than the bright star Fomalhaut, also nearby. Around the nights of October 13 to October 15, 2021 (see chart above), look southward from the Northern Hemisphere (closer to overhead from the Southern Hemisphere) to watch the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. Note that first quarter moon is October 12-13 (3:35 UTC on October 13. Then the waxing gibbous moon will pass Saturn 4 degrees S. of Saturn on October 14 at 7 UTC. It will pass 4 degrees S. of Jupiter on October 15 at 10 UTC.

A black-and-white diagam showing Jupiter at oppostion (Earth between Jupiter and the sun) and Saturn just past opposition (slightly behind the line between the sun, Earth and Jupiter).
As viewed from earthly north, all the planets orbit the sun in the same direction the sun rotates: counter-clockwise. This illustration of opposition (not to scale) shows the positions of the sun, Earth, Jupiter and Saturn in early August 2021. Saturn reached opposition on August 1-2. Jupiter reached opposition on August 19-20. Image via CyberSky.

Venus, brilliant and unmistakeable, lies low in the sunset direction for Northern Hemisphere observers, higher up for those in the Southern Hemisphere. The planet can be found near the red star Antares, the brightest stellar member of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Each evening, the planet moves a little closer to Antares, finally meeting it on October 15 and 16. In the meantime, the thin crescent moon slides above Venus on October 9. This should prove to be an enchanting scene with the lunar crescent, full with Earthshine, fully glowing above brilliant Venus. Through binoculars, you can discern details on the moon’s night side. From our earthly viewpoint, the brilliant planet swings away from the sun on the sky’s dome, reaching its greatest distance from it (greatest elongation) on October 29. Unfortunately for Northern Hemisphere observers, the planet remains fairly low above the horizon. However, because of the angle of the ecliptic, Southern Hemisphere skywatchers see it jump quite high in their western early evening sky, making quite an impression before the end of 2021.

Diagram showing positions of Venus in orbit and its phases at different positions.
Venus, and all the planets, travel counterclockwise around the sun. Venus is an inferior planet, or inside Earth’s orbit. So it shows phases like the moon. It swept to the far side of the sun (at superior conjunction) on March 26, 2021, to exit the morning sky and to enter the evening sky. Venus will reach its greatest eastern (evening) elongation from the sun (half Venus) on October 29, 2021. Then on January 9, 2022, Venus will go between the Earth and sun, at inferior conjunction, to exit the evening sky and to enter the morning sky. Image via UCLA.

Mercury is hidden in the the sun’s glare in early October 2021, crossing the sky with the sun during the day. Inferior conjunction, when Mercury sweeps between us and the sun, comes on October 9. Then – for the Northern Hemisphere – Mercury pops up in the morning sky shortly before the sun in the second half of October. It shines as a magnitude 0.0 point of light, low above the eastern horizon as dawn is beginning to break. It reaches its greatest angular distance from the sun on October 25-26. By month’s end, Mercury will still be noticeable, but only for 30 minutes or so before the morning twilight sky brightens too much. Southern Hemisphere skywatchers won’t see as good of a show as northern observers. For the southern half of Earth’s globe, will remain lost in the bright morning twilight all month. Unfortunately, Mercury is behind the sun when the moon sweeps through the October predawn sky. It does have a pass near the moon in early November, though. So we never have a morning in October 2021 when the waning crescent moon is near Mercury. Here are a couple of photos from the EarthSky Community, to make up for the loss:

Mercury and Mars close together at dusk August 18, 2021.
Congratulations to Peter Lowenstein of Mutare, Zimbabwe, who caught Mercury and Mars in the evening twilight on August 18, 2021. Thank you Peter!
The moon and two bright planets at sunset over a suspension bridge on a bay.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Alexander Krivenyshev in Newport, Rhode Island, captured this photo of the moon together with Mercury and Venus on May 13, 2021, and wrote: “The crescent moon hangs high after the earlier passing of Venus and the conjunction with Mercury.” Thank you, Alexander!

Uranus is reaching its best time of year to be observed. It’ll come to opposition on November 5. Even so, Uranus is very dim, even in a dark sky. But you can glimpse it with the eye under ideal conditions. And it can be identified with binoculars. Uranus might be the next planet beyond easy-to-see Saturn, but it needs a detailed star chart to be correctly identified; TheSkyLive has one.

Mars moves directly behind the sun on October 8, and, therefore, can’t be seen. The next real opportunity to spot the Red Planet with the unaided eye won’t be until the last week of December when it’ll dimly shine low in the sunrise direction, shortly before sunup. For the first half of 2022, Mars will slowly brighten. But it won’t dominate its area of the sky until spring 2022. Read more: What to expect from Mars in 2021 and 2022

Chart showing Earth and Mars on opposite sides of the sun.
Earth and Mars around October 7-8, 2021. That’s when Mars is in conjunction with the sun. It’s passing behind the sun from Earth and can’t be seen in our sky. Image via CyberSky.

Meteor showers in October

South Taurid meteors: Star chart showing constellation Taurus with two sets of radial arrows, one near the Pleiades.
The Taurid meteors consist of 2 streams, the South Taurid meteors and North Taurid meteors. Both streams appear to originate from the constellation Taurus the Bull. You might see South or North Taurids throughout October and into November.
Star chart with set of radial arrows at one end of constellation Draco.
Watch for the short-lived Draconid meteor shower at nightfall and early evening on October 8, 2021. This chart faces northward at nightfall in October. The Big Dipper sits low in the northwest. From the southern U.S. and comparable latitudes, in October, obstructions on your northern horizon might hide the Big Dipper from view. From farther south — say, the Southern Hemisphere — you won’t see the Dipper at all in the evening at this time of year. However, if you can spot it low in the sky, use the Big Dipper to star-hop to the star Polaris. Polaris marks the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Got all these stars? Then you should also be able to spot Eltanin and Rastaban, the Draconids’ radiant point, high in the northwest sky at nightfall in early October. Draconid meteors radiate from near these stars, which are known as the Dragon’s Eyes.
Star chart showing radiant point of Orionids.
The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter. The bright star near the radiant point is ruddy, somber Betelgeuse. You might catch an Orionid meteor between about October 2 to November 7. In 2021, the peak morning is October 21, but, around then, the full or nearly full Hunter’s Moon will be shining brightly. Read more.

Some resources to enjoy

Try Stellarium for precise views from your location

Try TheSkyLive for precise views from your location

Click here for recommended almanacs to find out precise rise and set times

Translate Universal Time (UTC) to your time

Ecliptic is the sun’s path in our sky

Which ones are the visible planets?

In their outward order from the sun, the five bright planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These are the planets easily visible without an optical aid. They’re the planets watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. These planets do appear bright in our sky. They are typically as bright as – or brighter than – the brightest stars. Plus, these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars.

You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

Silhouette of a man against the sunset sky with a bright planet and the crescent moon.
Skywatcher. Image via Predrag Agatonovic.

Bottom line: All you need to know about how to find the bright planets of the solar system during the month of September 2021.

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October 1, 2021
Astronomy Essentials

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