The feature sky chart above shows the southeastern sky about one hour before sunrise on December 1, 2013, as viewed from North American mid-northern latitudes. You’ll need an unobstructed horizon and possibly binoculars to spot Mercury beneath the waning crescent moon.
At mid-northern latitudes from Europe and Asia, the thin waning crescent moon will pair up more closely to the planet Saturn. But from anywhere worldwide, look first for the waning crescent moon, and then look for the nearby planets Saturn and Mercury. If you have them, remember your binoculars!
Saturn, though not as bright as Mercury, may be the easier planet to spot. That’s because Saturn shines higher in the sky at early dawn and doesn’t sit as deeply in the glow of morning twilight.
Mercury and Saturn both reside on the far side of the sun as seen from Earth, though at much different distances. Astronomers often like to give planetary distances in terms of the astronomical unit (au) – the Earth/sun distance. One astronomical unit = approximately 150 million kilometers or 93 million miles.
Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system, now resides at about 0.4 au from the sun and 1.28 au from Earth. Saturn, the sixth planet outward from the sun and the most distant world that we can easily see with the unaided eye, lodges way out there at about 9.9 au from the sun and 10.8 au from Earth.
Normally, we need an optical aid to see Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, and we absolutely need an optical aid to see Neptune, the eighth planet outward. Tomorrow morning, as darkness gives way to dawn, let the moon guide your eye to Mercury and Saturn, the closest planet and farthest planet from the sun, respectively, as viewed with the unaided eye.