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Moon, Saturn, Antares on February 3

Before dawn on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, watch for the waning crescent moon shining close to the golden planet Saturn. The fainter, twinkling, ruddy object in the vicinity of the moon and Saturn is Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Antares represents the Scorpion’s Heart.

You can’t see Saturn’s rings through ordinary field binoculars, though binoculars are great for getting an eyeful of earthshine on the dark side of the moon.

But you can view Saturn’s rings with a modest backyard telescope. Try your luck tomorrow, before dawn.

Once you’ve identified Saturn, jump off from there to witness all five visible planets in the same sky. From east to west, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Look for Mars and Jupiter a good ways to the west of the ringed planet. The bow of the lunar crescent points in the direction of Venus and Mercury near the southeast horizon, but don’t expect to see Mercury until darkness first begins to give way to dawn (80 to 70 minutes before sunrise).

The five visible planets will adorn the February morning sky until around February 20. In the chart below, Mars shines close to due south, so Jupiter lies outside this chart in the southwest sky. Scroll to the bottom of this post for an additional chart showing Jupiter and all five planets in the morning sky.

In their order of brightness, the five planets are Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn and Mars. Mercury may not appear as bright as Saturn or Mars, however, because the solar system’s innermost planet sits so close to the horizon and in the glare of sunrise.

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.

Read more: See all 5 planets at once!

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

View larger. | Through mid-February, you can see five bright planets at once in the predawn sky.

Bottom line: Before dawn on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, let the moon introduce you to Saturn – and, in fact, all five visible morning planets.

Bruce McClure

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