Six naked-eye planets

posted: 552 days ago, on Wednesday, 2016 Jan 20 at 06:45
tags: astronomy, outreach, almanack, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.

In the last week of January and into the first week of February, all six naked-eye planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth - will be visible at the same time.

Starting late-January, in the morning sky shortly before sunrise, six planets will be visible at the same time. The trickiest planet to catch will be Mercury, which - as the planet nearest the Sun and thus never moving too far from our bright star - will be low in the east before sunrise.

Start looking on the morning of January 23, when super-low Mercury may be visible before sunrise. It gets easier each morning afterwards.

From January 26 to about February 07, the Moon joins the sextet, waning to a beautiful slender crescent on February 06, when it makes a spectacular grouping with Venus and Mercury - this is not to be missed!

How to see the Gathering Of The Planets

Scroll down for individual diagrams showing the planets in the morning sky, from Thursday morning, January 28 to Saturday, February 06.

Look to the east, more or less where the Sun rises in the morning. You should see a brilliant "star" a little way up from the horizon - this is the planet Venus, which sometimes goes by the nickname of the Morning Star. It is the brightest "star" in the sky. Much higher up and to your left (facing North) is another bright star (not quite as bright as Venus, but still very bright) - this is the giant planet Jupiter. Between Jupiter and Venus you will find Mars (do you notice its colour?) and Saturn (a telescope shows its magnificent rings!). Below and slightly to the right of Venus is the tiny planet Mercury, the most difficult of the naked-eye planets to spot. And, of course, all around you is our own planet, Earth. Six planets all at once: that's one for your astronomy bucket list!

Some dates to note

On the morning of Jan 28, the Moon will lie close to Jupiter.
On the morning of Feb 01, the Moon (at Last Quarter phase) will lie near Mars.
On the morning of Feb 05, the crescent Moon approaches Venus and Mercury.
On the morning of Feb 06, the crescent Moon makes a beautiful grouping with Venus and Mercury.
On the morning of Feb 07, the very slender crescent Moon lies below Mercury and will be a challenge to see. It is New Moon on Feb 08.

Venus, Mercury and the Moon (Feb 05-07)

On Saturday morning, February 06, brilliant Venus, mercurial Mercury, and the slender crescent Moon will put on a lovely display shortly before sunrise. Don't miss this!

The diagram above explains why we get to see the planets all at once. The big yellow blob in the centre is our Sun, and the coloured dots show the positions of the planets, in their orbits, for February 01. Our Earth is highlighted in blue, and the planets move in a clockwise direction (the big green arrow is a clue). All the naked-eye planets lie on the same side of the Sun and are thus visible at the same time. In this configuration they are seen in the morning sky, before sunrise. If the planets were all on the other side (to the right in the diagram) then they would be visible in the evening sky, shortly after sunset. Hang around until August to see that!

To generate your own solar system from above diagram, go to www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Solar.

Six Planets in the City. The view on Jan 28, as seen from a city, with lots of terrible light pollution. The stars are almost missing! :-(

The view on Jan 28, as seen from a dark site. Lots of lovely stars! Plus the Moon and six planets, of course. The bright Moon is close to Jupiter.

The view on Jan 29. Moon and six planets. This morning, the Moon is between Jupiter and the star Spica (the alpha-star of Virgo the Virgin).

The view on Jan 30. Moon and six planets. This morning, the Moon is closer to Spica.

The view on Jan 31. Moon and six planets. The Moon lies between Spica and reddish Mars this morning.

The view on Feb 01. Moon and six planets. The Moon is close to Mars this morning.

The view on Feb 02. Moon and six planets. The Moon lies inbetween Mars and Saturn this morning, to the left of Antares (the alpha-star of Scorpio).

The view on Feb 03. Moon and six planets. The crescent Moon lies near Saturn and Antares this morning.

The view on Feb 04. Moon and six planets. The Moon lies within the Milky Way this morning, below Saturn.

The view on Feb 05. Moon and six planets. The crescent Moon, within the Milky Way, lies betweewn Saturn and Venus, heading for a spectacular grouping tomorrow morning!

The view on Feb 06. Moon and six planets. What a perfect view to start the week-end! The slender lunar crescent makes a lovely triangle with Venus and Mercury. See the close-up diagrams below.

Close-up view of the crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury. The Moon on Sunday morning will be quite tricky to see, very low near the horizon shortly before the Sun spoils the view.

Other highlights for 2016 will be found on the "Best Stargazing Events in 2016" page.

nothing more to see. please move along.