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Moon, Venus, Mercury on February 6

Before dawn on February 6, 2016 … think photo opportunity! The crescent moon and the planets Venus and Mercury convene in the morning sky, just as darkness wanes toward dawn on this Saturday morning. Look in the sunrise direction shortly before sunrise, when the sky is still dark enough to see the stars.

If there’s any cloud or haze on your eastern horizon – or if you’ve got an exceptionally bright city sky – binoculars will come in handy!

Depending on your time zone, Mercury reaches its greatest western (morning) elongation from the sun on February 6 or 7. That means that Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, swings to the outer edge of its orbit as seen from Earth.

And it means we can see Mercury pretty well – or very well – in the sky before dawn.

Watch for the  crescent moon to sink as it wanes in the morning sky. The green line represents the ecliptic.

Miss the scene on Saturday? Try again Sunday morning, February 7. The green line represents the ecliptic, or sun’s path across our sky.

Not to scale. Mercury's mean distance from the sun is about 0.39 times Earth's distance from the sun. We're looking down from the north side of the solar system plane, in which case Mercury and Earth circle the sun in a counterclokwise direction. Earth and Mercury also rotate counterclockwise as seen from the north side of the solar system. At its greatest eastern elongation, Mercury is seen in the west after sunset; and at its greatest western elongation, Mercury is seen in the east before sunrise.

Not to scale. Mercury’s mean distance from the sun is about 0.39 times Earth’s distance. This diagram looks down from the north side of the solar system, so that Mercury and Earth revolve around the sun in a counterclokwise direction. At its greatest eastern elongation, Mercury is seen in the west after sunset; and at its greatest western elongation, Mercury is seen in the east before sunrise.

Around the time of greatest elongation, Mercury is as far from the sun as it will be, for this apparition. Right now, this planet – sometimes called the most elusive planet since it always stays near the sun in our sky – is rising at or near its maximum period of time before sunrise.

At mid-northern latitudes right now, Mercury rises approximately 80 minutes before the sun. At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury rises nearly two hours before the sun. Click here for recommendations for a sky almanac that can give you the precise rising times for the moon and planets in your sky.

After this, Mercury will start rising closer and closer to the time of sunrise and finally disappear in the sunrise glare, sometime after mid-February. From the Southern Hemisphere, though, you might actually be able to view Mercury in the morning sky until the month’s end.

The five visible planets will adorn the February morning sky until Mercury disappears from view.

And, although the moon will be moving out of the morning sky in a day or two, you can continue to use the dazzling planet Venus to locate nearby Mercury.

The upcoming week is a grand time to spot Mercury near Venus before sunrise, and thus to see all five naked-eye planets in the February morning sky.

The first week of February 2016 presents the best time for catching all five visible planets in the same sky together. Read more

The first week of February 2016 presents the best time for catching all five visible planets in the same sky together. Read more


Bottom line: The moon has been sweeping past the five planets in the morning sky. O Saturday morning – February 6, 2016 – the moon will be near both Mercury and Venus.

Bruce McClure

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