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Mercury and Venus close before sunrise

Technically speaking, Mercury and Venus will not have a conjunction this month. However, these two worlds will be staging a quasi-conjunction from about February 11 to 15, 2016. A quasi-conjunction is said to take place whenever two planets come to within 5o of each other on the sky’s dome, yet do not align north and south of one another.

Before attempting to spot Mercury near Venus, get up about 80 minutes before the sun to view four of the five planets: Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Venus, the sky’s brightest planet will be quite close to the horizon – or on the verge of rising. Mercury will follow Venus into the brightening morning twilight an hour or so before sunrise.

Venus enters the sky before Mercury does. Mercury follows Venus into the sky roughly 15 to 20 minutes later.

Venus enters the sky before Mercury does. Mercury follows Venus into the sky roughly 15 to 20 minutes later.

Click on our almanac page to find out the rising times for the planets into your sky. Remember that the listed times presume a level horizon.

At their closest, Mercury and Venus are 4o apart on February 13, 2016. For reference, the width of one finger at an arm length approximates 2o of sky, so these two worlds will be about two finger-widths apart for the next several days.

Binoculars often have a field of view (FOV) of about 5o, so Mercury and Venus may well fit within a single binocular field for several days. Starting an hour or so before sunrise, aim your binoculars at dazzling Venus to spot nearby Mercury.

By the way, all five naked-eye planets should be yours to behold in the morning sky, as long as you can view Mercury. Click here for details.

See it! Photos of the 5 planets before dawn

As seen from the N. Hemisphere, the 5 planets arc across the southern sky, shortly before dawn.

As seen from the N. Hemisphere, the 5 planets arc across the southern sky, shortly before dawn.

Bottom line: Starting an hour or so before sunrise – from February 11 to 15, 2016 – aim your binoculars at dazzling Venus before dawn to spot Mercury nearby.

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Bruce McClure

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