Will you spot the moon and Jupiter?

Up for a sky watching challenge? Jupiter disappeared from our evening sky in late 2019, and – for some weeks – has been traveling behind the sun from Earth. Now Jupiter has returned to the east before sunrise, but – depending on your sky conditions – may now be playing hide-and-seek in your sky. Have you seen it yet? On January 21 and 22, you can use the slender waning crescent moon to locate Jupiter. The lit side of the moon will point in Jupiter’s direction on the sky’s dome.

As the chart above shows, the red planet Mars is also in the east, easily visible to the eye before dawn right now. However, Mars isn’t nearly as bright as Jupiter. Mars and the nearby red star Antares might fade from view by the time Jupiter rises into your sky.

You’ll need an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunrise for your Jupiter quest. If possible, find a hill or balcony to stand on, so you can peek a little farther over the horizon. Although Jupiter is the fourth-brightest celestial body to light up the sky – after the sun, moon, and the planet Venus – you still might need binoculars to spot Jupiter close to the horizon in the hazy murk of dawn.

Incidentally, there’s no way to mistake Venus for Jupiter, or vice versa. Venus is in the west after sunset now. Jupiter is in the east before sunrise. That’ll remain the case for months to come.

To find out when the sun rises in your part of the world, visit Sunrise Sunset Calendars, remembering to check the moonrise and moonset box.

Meanwhile, here is Jupiter’s approximate rising time for various latitudes:

60 degrees north latitude:
Jupiter rises 45 minutes before sunrise

40 degrees north latitude:
Jupiter rises 1 hour and 10 minutes before sunrise

Equator (0 degrees latitude):
Jupiter rises 1 hour and 20 minutes before sunrise

35 degrees south latitude:
Jupiter rises 1 1/2 hours before sunrise

Want more specific information? Check out the links on our sky almanac page.

As you can see, the southerly latitudes have the big advantage for catching Jupiter before sunrise. In the Southern Hemisphere and the northern tropics, chances are that you’ll see Jupiter with the eye alone in a clear sky. At northerly latitudes, you may need binoculars to tease out Jupiter from the twilight glare.

Moon and Jupiter before sunrise January 22

View larger. Ken Christison of North Carolina caught the king planet Jupiter beneath the waning crescent moon before sunrise January 22, 2020. Way to go, Ken!

Day by day, however, the king planet Jupiter is climbing farther and farther away from the glare of sunrise, and will rise before dawn’s first light someday soon. What’s more, Jupiter is quickly heading for Mars, and will finally catch up with the red planet for a stunning conjunction on the morning of March 20, 2020!

Bottom line: Let the illuminated side of the waning crescent moon guide you to Jupiter’s place near the horizon before sunrise on January 21 and 22, 2020. Good luck!

EarthSky 2020 lunar calendars are available! Only a few left. Order now!

Bruce McClure