And Mercury Makes Five: See All Naked Eye Planets in the Sky at Once

The waning crescent Moon above Venus and Saturn (dimmer and below Venus) in the dawn twilight on January 6, 2016. The Moon re-visits the grouping in early February. Image credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.

A fine sight greets early risers this week into the month of February, as all five naked eye planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter ring the sky from horizon to horizon.Though not a true planetary alignment as extolled by many websites, this is a great chance to see all five classical planets above the horizon at once… or seven, if you count the waning gibbous Moon and the rising Sun, as the ancients did as part of their geocentric, Earth-entered universe. You can kinda see how they got there, as the very heavens themselves seemed to whorl about the cradle of earthly human affairs.Here’s a scorecard and a planet-by-planet breakdown guide to the February dawn sky:Jupiter is the most westward of the group, shinning at magnitude -2.3 in the constellation Leo. The Moon passes 1.3 degrees SSW of Jupiter on January 28th, and Jupiter is headed towards opposition for 2016 on March 8th.Moving eastward, the planet Mars shines at magnitude +1.0 in the constellation Libra. The waning crescent Moon passes 2.7 degrees NNE of Mars on the first morning of February. Watch Mars later this spring, as we’re in for a fine opposition of the Red Planet on May 22nd. Oppositions of Mars happen roughly every other year, and the next opposition in 2018 will be nearly as favorable as the historic 2003 appearance of the Red Planet. This also means that 2016 is a launch year for all missions martian, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gas Trace Orbiter launches from Baikonur on March 14th headed Marsward.Next up is Saturn, shining at magnitude +0.6 in the dreaded ’13th zodiacal constellation’ of Ophiuchus. The waning crescent Moon visits Saturn on the morning after Candlemas and Groundhog’s Day (February 3rd), itself a cross quarter tie-in day —> Read More