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Moon, Spica, planets Saturday morning

Tonight – January 29, 2016 – from late night until dawn Saturday, the moon will be above the horizon as seen from around the world, displaying a waning gibbous phase – more than half-lit yet less than totally illuminated. The moon will rise late on this night in the company of the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo.

The exact time will depend on your location on the globe, but it’ll be late this evening or close to midnight before the moon and Spica will come sailing over your eastern horizon.

There are also some planets near the moon and Spica that you’ll want to know about. In fact, if you wait until shortly before dawn, it’s now possible to see all five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – simultaneously in the predawn sky. We haven’t been able to see them at once since 2005.

The charts below show you how to identify these worlds near the moon in the mornings to come. And if you need more, try this link.

See it! Photos of the 5 bright planets visible now before dawn

View larger. For illustrative purposes, the moon appears larger than it does in the real sky. Mid-northern latitudes in Europe and Asia see the planets similarly positioned, yet 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. | The moon is now beginning its sweep past 5 planets – and also some bright stars – in the early morning sky. Look for the moon and Jupiter late and night January 27 and in the early morning of January 28. Watch for Mars near the moon on the morning of February 1. See photos of the 5 planets, from the EarthSky community.

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. | Keep watching in early February, as the moon sweeps past Saturn, Venus and Mercury. The green line represents the ecliptic – path of the sun, moon and planets across the sky’s dome.

All the while you are watching for these planets and the bright stars near them, the illuminated portion of the moon will be waning (shrinking). In other words, on the night of January 29, 2016, the waning gibbous moon is heading toward its last quarter phase.

The half-lit last quarter moon will occur on February 1, 2016, at 3:28 Universal Time. At US time zones, that translates to 10:28 p.m. EST, 9:28 p.m. CST, 8:28 p.m. MST or 7:28 p.m. PST.

This will be the second of two last quarter moons this month for us in North America, so perhaps we can call it a blue last quarter moon. Just kidding.

If you’re not one to stay up late, get up before dawn to see the moon and star Spica – and the five planets – in the morning sky on Saturday.

Live by the moon with your 2016 EarthSky lunar calendar!

When the moon is no longer there to guide you, use the Big Dipper as your guide to Spica. Extend the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to arc to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica, as shown below.

2015-jan-12-text2-arcturus-spica-big-dipper-night-sky-chart

Bottom line: Between midnight and dawn on January 30, 2016, let the waning gibbous moon guide your eye to Spica, the constellation Virgo’s one and only 1st-magnitude star. Also in this post, charts that will help you identify the five planets now visible before dawn.

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Bruce McClure

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