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Moon and Mars before dawn February 1

Tomorrow morning – February 1, 2016 – the moon will be near its last quarter phase as it and Mars rise over the eastern horizon an hour or so after the midnight hour at mid-northern latitudes. If you’re not a night owl, you’ll be better off to view the moon and Mars before dawn Monday.

Our sky chart at top specifically applies to mid-northern North American latitudes.

Nonetheless – no matter where you are on Earth – you should have little trouble using the moon to locate Mars in your own sky before dawn on February 1. Look first for the moon, and the nearby bright starlike object will be the red planet Mars.

And, by the way, Monday morning is an awesome time to identify Mars for another reason. This planet has been inconspicuous in our sky for the past year or more, because Earth has been following behind it in the race of the planets around the sun. But – this coming May 22 – we’ll pass between Mars and the sun. Between now and then, you’ll see Mars get much redder and much brighter in our sky.

View larger | Mikhail Chubarets in the Ukraine made this chart.  It shows the view of Mars through a telescope in 2016.  We pass between Mars and the sun on May 22.  We won't see Mars as a disk like this with the eye alone. But, between the start of 2016 and May, the dot of light that is Mars will  grow dramatically brighter and redder in our night sky. Watch for it!

View larger | Mikhail Chubarets in the Ukraine made this chart. It shows the view of Mars through a telescope in 2016. We pass between Mars and the sun on May 22. We won’t see Mars as a disk like this with the eye alone. But, between the start of 2016 and May, the dot of light that is Mars will grow dramatically brighter and redder in our night sky. Watch for it!

If you look closely, you might also spot a fainter but visible light close to Mars. It’s Zubenelgenubi, the alpha star in the constellation Libra the Scales.

If you have difficulty making out the star Zubenelgenubi with the eye alone, try your luck with binoculars. Mars and Zubenelgenubi will occupy the same binocular field of view for at least another week. What’s more, binoculars show Zubenelgenubi to be a double star.

While taking in the wonder of the predawn sky, take time to view the other four visible planets. Brilliant Jupiter shines to the west of the moon and Mars, while the planets Saturn, Venus and Mercury lurk to the lower east of the moon and Mars. The moon passed Jupiter last week, and will be passing the other planets in the coming days.

Click here to find out more about the grand parade of morning planets.

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.

Beginning around January 20 - through mid-February - you can see five bright planets at once in the predawn sky.

View larger. | Beginning around January 20 – through mid-February – you can see five bright planets at once in the predawn sky.

See all five visible planets simultaneously

Bottom line: Before dawn on February 1, 2016, look for the moon and Mars close together on the sky’s dome.

Bruce McClure

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