Henry David Thoreau once remarked:
Morning brings back the heroic ages.
And it’s true. Wake up early tomorrow morning – Friday, August 30, 2013 – and see for yourself. If you do this, you’ll also be able to witness three glorious worlds in the predawn sky. They can be found more or less in a line in the east before dawn, with the fat waning crescent moon shining highest in the east, the dazzling king planet Jupiter standing second in line and the rather faint red planet Mars nearest the eastern horizon. The moon and these planets can be seen throughout the world now, before the sun comes up. Start watching them now, and keep watching before dawn through the first few days of September. You’ll see the moon edge downward the eastern predawn sky each day, becoming a thinner crescent as it nears the sunrise.
The moon will move closer to Jupiter throughout the day on Friday, and it’ll appear very close to Jupiter on the morning of Saturday, August 31. Then the moon will move onward toward Mars, to pair up with the red planet in early September 2013. The moon moves more quickly through constellations of the Zodiac than does any other solar system world. Why? Because the moon orbits Earth, and is relatively nearby.
The moon and Jupiter are bright. You’ll see them easily. Mars is fainter, though, and closer to the horizon. If you can’t see Mars right away as you view tomorrow’s early morning tableau, refer to the sky chart at the top of this post. Try to slide your gaze down the ecliptic – the annual pathway of the sun in front of the constellations of the Zodiac – from the moon to Jupiter to Mars. In other words, Mars will be located below Jupiter in the eastern predawn sky, toward the spot on the horizon where the sun will rise.
The red planet Mars resides somewhat less than two fist-widths below Jupiter. Hold your fist at an arm length. As always, binoculars help out with the Mars search, especially when morning twilight begins to obscure the sky.
Folks in the Northern Hemisphere might also locate Mars by way of the two bright Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux. This pair of stars shines to the left of Jupiter, with Pollux more or less forming a right angle with Jupiter and Mars. Middle latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere won’t find these Gemini stars very easily because they’re near the horizon and submerged in the glow of dawn.
However, the constellation Orion the Hunter is easily visible from all over the world in the August and September predawn sky. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, Orion lights up the eastern sky, assuming a recumbent position to the right of Jupiter. But as viewed from temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Orion lodges in the northeast, standing on his head above the planet Jupiter.
The Americas see the moon in northern Orion on Friday morning, August 30. In fact, the waning crescent moon actually turns Orion’s Club into a shining scepter before the encroaching dawn wipes the stars from the blackboard of night.
Bottom line: The planets Jupiter and Mars are in the predawn sky now. Look east before dawn. From the morning of August 30, 2013 through the first few mornings of September, you’ll be able to watch the waning moon move downward in the east before dawn, passing the planets.