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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Feb 02, 2016

February 2016 guide to the 5 bright planets

The first week of February, 2016, presents the best time to see all 5 planets – Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter – together.

The first week of February 2016 presents the best time for catching all five visible planets in the same sky together. Read more

The 5 bright planets arc across the early morning sky. When you see them, remember … you’re looking into the plane of the solar system. Read more

Yes! You can still see five planets! In fact, the first week of February is the best time for all of 2016 to see Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter together. All five worlds are up before dawn. The moon swings by the planets in the first week of February, pointing them out for your viewing pleasure. As shown on the chart below, the moon pairs up with Mars on February 1, Saturn on February 3, Venus on February 5 and Mercury on February 6. Find out more at our post: See all five bright planets simultaneously! Follow the links below to learn more about the February planets.

Mercury, below Venus, in predawn/dawn sky

Venus, brightest planet, east before sunrise

Jupiter, second-brightest and westernmost planet

Mars shines between Venus and Jupiter

Saturn, above Venus, visible before dawn

When will all five visible planets appear simultaneously?

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View larger. For illustrative purposes, the moon appears larger than it does in the real sky. Mid-northern latitudes in Europe and Asia will see the moon somewhat offset toward the previous date. The green line on the above chart depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

View larger. For illustrative purposes, the moon appears larger than it does in the real sky. Mid-northern latitudes in Europe and Asia will see the moon somewhat offset toward the previous date. The green line on the above chart depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

Mercury, below Venus, in predawn/dawn sky. In the final week of January 2016, Mercury climbed far enough from the sunrise to be seen with the other four morning planets – Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn – to showcase all five visible planets in the same sky since the year 2005. Look for all five visible planets to adorn the predawn/dawn sky throughout the first half of February. Be sure to use the waning crescent moon to guide you to Mercury (and Venus) on February 5 and February 6.

Mercury will be at its best in the morning sky for several weeks, centered around February 7, 2016. At this juncture, Mercury rises about 80 minutes before the sun at mid-northern latitudes. At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury rises a whopping two hours (120 minutes) before sunrise. As always, no matter where you live, binoculars help out with any Mercury quest.

Click here to find out Mercury’s rising time in your sky

Although Mercury’s morning apparition counts as a good one for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, it definitely favors the Southern Hemisphere. Mercury might be visible for the whole month of February, 2016 in the Southern Hemisphere.

After a lengthy apparition in the morning sky, Mercury will finally swing back into the evening sky on March 23, 2016.

See all five visible planets simultaneously!

Watch for the  crescent moon to sink as it wanes in the morning sky. The green line represents the ecliptic. Read more.

Watch for the crescent moon to sink as it wanes in the morning sky. The green line represents the ecliptic. Read more.

Venus, brightest planet, east before sunrise. No matter where you are on Earth, here’s a very fun observation to make this month: Venus before dawn. Venus is the brightest planet and third-brightest sky object overall, after the sun and moon. When it’s visible, it’s very, very prominent in our sky.

So step outside some early morning, and look low in your southeast sky to see the dazzling planet Venus. Look for Saturn above Venus and for Mercury below.

Venus is rapidly sinking toward the sunrise this month, as viewed from mid-northern latitudes. Venus starts out the month rising about two hours before the sun, yet by the month’s end, only rises about an hour before sunrise. From temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Venus rises better than two hours before the sun nearly all month long.

During the first half of February 2016, Venus sinks toward the sunrise while Mercury climbs toward Venus. The two worlds meet up for a close pairing on February 13. So for several days, from around February 11 to 15, look for Venus and Mercury to fit, or nearly fit, into one binocular field of view.

The moon sweeps by Venus on February 5 and Mercury on February 6.

The moon shines in the vicinity of Jupiter for several evenings, centered on February 23.

The moon shines in the vicinity of Jupiter for several evenings, centered on February 23.

Jupiter, second-brightest and westernmost planet. Jupiter is the first planet to appear in the sky, rising at early-to-mid evening at the beginning of the month. By the month’s end, Jupiter will actually rise at dusk or nightfall (about one-half hour after sunset) from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

From around the world, the king planet Jupiter and the red planet Mars both shine respectably high in the February predawn sky. Closer to the horizon, though high enough to be viewed with relative ease, Saturn shines quite some ways above Venus and Mercury.

The bright moon swings near Jupiter on February 21, February 22 and February 23.

If you have binoculars or a telescope, it’s fairly easy to see Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light on or near the same plane. They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo, who discovered these great Jovian moons in 1610. In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

These moons circle Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we got to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons through a high-powered telescope. Click here or here or here for more details.

Although Jupiter’s axial tilt is only 3o out of perpendicular relative to the ecliptic (Earth’s orbital plane), Jupiter’s axis will tilt enough toward the sun and Earth so that the farthest of these four moons, Callisto, will NOT pass in front of Jupiter or behind Jupiter for a period of about three years, starting in late 2016. During this approximate 3-year period, Callisto will remain “perpetually” visible, alternately swinging “above” and “below” Jupiter.

Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

Use the moon to find the planets Mars and Saturn, and the star Antares in late February and early March. The green line depicts the ecliptic. Mars will eventually catch up with Saturn on August 25, 2016, to stage a conjunction of these two worlds in the August evening sky.

Use the moon to find the planets Mars and Saturn, and the star Antares in late February and early March. The green line depicts the ecliptic. Mars will eventually catch up with Saturn on August 25, 2016, to stage a conjunction of these two worlds in the August evening sky.

Mars shines between Venus and Jupiter. Mars is nowhere as bright as Venus or Jupiter. Even so, modestly-bright Mars is easily visible in the predawn sky. Mars shines in between Venus, the sky’s brightest planet, and Jupiter, the sky’s second-brightest, all month long. Although Mars will be fairly close to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, you can distinguish Mars from Spica by color. Mars appears ruddy whereas Spica sparkles blue-white. If have difficulty discerning color with the eye alone, try using binoculars.

Let the waning crescent moon help guide your eye to Mars in the morning sky on February 1. Then, to double your fun, watch the moon swing by Mars (and Saturn) at the month’s end, too, as shown on the above sky chart. Mars will eventually catch up with Saturn on August 25, 2016, to stage a conjunction of these two worlds in the August evening sky.

Mars will continue to brighten month by month, until the Red Planet culminates in brightness in May, 2016. Believe it or not, Mars will be about as brilliant then as Jupiter is now!

View larger. Here's the view 45 minutes before sunrise as plotted for February 1st, about when Mercury should be easiest to spot. For several days the waning Moon is marching eastward among the assembled planets. Sky & Telescope diagram

View larger. Here’s the view 45 minutes before sunrise as plotted for February 1st, about when Mercury should be easiest to spot. For several days the waning Moon is marching eastward among the assembled planets. Sky & Telescope diagram

Saturn, above Venus, visible before dawn. Saturn shines as a morning planet all through February. From around the world, the ringed planet starts the month rising nearly four hours before the sun. By the month’s end, Saturn rises about five hours before sunrise. Saturn will continue to climb upward, away from the sunrise point on the horizon, while Venus falls in the direction of sunrise in the February morning sky.

Watch for the moon to swing by Saturn on or near February 3, as shown on the sky chart above.

Saturn, the farthest world that you can easily view with the eye alone, appears golden in color. It shines with a steady light. Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, by the way. For that, you need a small telescope. But binoculars will enhance Saturn’s golden color.

Saturn’s rings are inclined at about 26o from edge-on in February 2016, exhibiting their northern face. Next year, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May, 2032.

Click here for recommended almanacs. They can help you know when the planets rise, transit and set in your sky

What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They’re often bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

Bottom line: Saturn, Venus, Mars and Jupiter light up the predawn/dawn sky all month long. Mercury recently joined the string of morning planets in the final week of January, and all five visible planets will continue to adorn the morning sky throughout the first few weeks of February.

Easily locate stars and constellations with EarthSky’s planisphere.

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Watch for the planets before dawn in October, 2015!  Photo taken October 2, 2015 by Mohamed Laaifat Photographies in Normandy, France.

Awesome month for planets before dawn: October, 2015! Photo taken October 2, 2015 by Mohamed Laaifat Photographies in Normandy, France.

Are you up before dawn?  Look east for three bright planets and a star.  submitted to EarthSky by Greg Hogan in Kathleen, Georgia.  Thanks, Greg!

Eastern sky before dawn now. Photo taken September 18, 2015 and submitted to EarthSky by Greg Hogan in Kathleen, Georgia. Thanks, Greg!

View larger. Evening dusk on August 5: Venus at left. Mercury is climbing higher, toward Regulus (at top) and Jupiter (beneath Regulus).

View larger. Evening dusk on August 5: Venus at left. Mercury is climbing higher, toward Regulus (at top) and Jupiter (beneath Regulus).

By the evening of July 12, Venus and Jupiter were farther apart and lower in the western sky after sunset.  Photo by Robert Kelly.  Thanks, Robert!

By the evening of July 12, Venus and Jupiter were farther apart and lower in the western sky after sunset. Photo by Robert Kelly. Thanks, Robert!

This is an excellent time to see Saturn in the night sky, since Earth recently passed between it and the sun.  Photo taken June 13, 2015 by John Nelson at Puget Sound, Washington.  Thanks, John!  EarthSky planet guide for 2015.

Photo taken June 13, 2015 by John Nelson at Puget Sound, Washington. Thanks, John!

View larger. | Göran Strand in Sweden wrote:

View larger. | Photo taken in early June, 2015 by Göran Strand in Sweden. He wrote: “One of the last nights during the spring when the stars were still visible … ” Follow Fotograf Göran Strand on Facebook, or @astrofotografen on Instagram. Or visit his website.

Lunar eclipse on the night of October 8, 2014.  The object to the left is the planet Uranus!  This beautiful photo is by Janey Wing Kenyon of Story, Wyoming.

Lunar eclipse on the night of October 8, 2014. The object to the left is the planet Uranus! This beautiful photo is by Janey Wing Kenyon of Story, Wyoming.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014.  Jupiter was close to the twilight then.  In early July, Jupiter will be even closer to the twilight, about to disappear in the sun's glare.

Debra Fryar in Calobreves, Texas captured this photo of the moon and Jupiter on May 31, 2014. Jupiter was close to the twilight then.

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France.

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France. Visit his page on Facebook.

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

Venus by Danny Crocker-Jensen

These are called star trails. It’s a long-exposure photo, which shows you how Earth is turning under the stars. The brightest object here is Jupiter, which is the second-brightest planet, after Venus. This awesome photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Mohamed Laaifat in Normandy, France. Thank you, Mohamed.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, by Predrag Agatonovic.

Easily locate stars and constellations with EarthSky’s planisphere.

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