What the Planets are doing this month


JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec


January 2017

   Mercury. The first few days of the New Year finds the inner planet rising around thirty minutes before the Sun and very difficult to spot in the eastern twilight sky. It will get easier to see as the month progresses and will be rising ninety minutes earlier than the Sun on the 17th when it reaches its greatest elongation west of the Sun. Spending the entire month in Sagittarius Mercury has plenty of deep sky companions this month passing ninety arcminutes to the north of globular cluster M22 on the 22nd of January. On the 25th the thin crescent of a waning Moon will be five degrees to the north west of Mercury.

Venus. The Evening Star begins the month high in the western evening sky in Aquarius less than four degrees to the east of a four day old waxing crescent Moon. It sets three hours later than the Sun at the start of January and at magnitude -4.35 outshines all of its neighbours except the Moon. Reaching its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 11th, it begins its journey back toward the Sun and by the end of the month will be setting just two hours later than the Sun. The waxing crescent Moon pays Venus another visit on the last two days of the month.

   Mars. Also high in the western evening sky after the Sun has set, Mars spends the first part of the month in Aquarius before crossing into Pisces on the 19th. New Year's Eve will be a great opportunity to observe the Red Planet and Neptune together as they will be less than six arcminutes apart on that evening. A waxing crescent Moon pays Mars its first visit for the month on the 2nd and will join Mars again on the last day of January. On this day Venus will be five degrees to the west of Mars outshining Mars by almost five magnitudes.

  Jupiter. The giant planet rises just after midnight at the beginning of January; four degrees to the north of Virgo's brightest star Spica, which it outshines by a full magnitude. The pair are in close proximity for the entire month and are joined by a waning gibbous Moon on the 18th and 19th. Spica is a blue-white star 260 light years away and is an eclipsing binary varying by about 0.1 of a magnitude every four days. The Sun passes through Virgo from mid-September to early November.

  Saturn. Rising ninety minutes before the sun on the 1st of January, Saturn improves its position for observation each day as the month progresses as by month's end will rise almost four hours before sunrise. Still lazing about in Ophiuchus where it has been since December 2015, Saturn is moving slowly eastward against the background stars preparing to move into Sagittarius late next month. The waning crescent Moon passes five degrees to the north of Saturn on the 24th of the month..

Moon Phase for January 2017:

5th  12th   22nd  28th

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February 2017  

   Mercury. The first half of February will be the best time to observe the innermost planet as it will be rising 90 minutes before the Sun for the first few days of the month. However it very quickly moves back toward the Sun in preparation for its superior conjunction with the Sun early in March. The 7th of February finds Mercury less than half a degree to the north of magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 as it crosses the border from Sagittarius into Capricornus.

Venus. Now fulfilling its roll as the "Evening Star", Venus is high in the north western sky just after sunset. It will be setting two hours later than the Sun at the beginning of the month but only one hour later than the Sun by the end of the month. On the first day of the month the thin crescent of a four day old Moon sits eight degrees above Venus with the planet Mars in between the two.

   Mars. The Red Planet rides high in the western evening sky after the Sun has set on the first of the month with the thin crescent of a four day old Moon just three degrees to its east. It drifts slowly eastward against the background stars of Pisces as the month progresses finishing up half a degree from Uranus on the 27th of the month making it very easy to spot this magnitude 5.8 planet. On this day the brilliant Venus sits eleven degrees to the west of this pair.

  Jupiter. Rising well before midnight at the start of February, Jupiter spends the entire month among the stars of Virgo and less than four degrees to the north of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. Jupiter appears stationary on the 7th and begins a four month period of westward motion in relation to the background stars. It will not appear to move eastward again until the 10th of June. The waning gibbous Moon will be three degrees to the north of Jupiter on the 15th of the month.

  Saturn. The ringed planet begins the month in Ophiuchus and crosses into Sagittarius around February 25th. It will rise a little over three hours before the Sun at the beginning of the month but by month's end will rise around 1:00am, five hours before the Sun. The waning crescent Moon resides four degrees to the north of Saturn on the 21st of February.

Moon Phase for February 2017:

4th   11th   19th   27th

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March 2017

   Mercury. March is not a good month to observe the innermost planet. Mercury is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 7th, after which it moves into the western evening sky. However because of the sharp angle of the ecliptic to the horizon even by the end of the month will be setting only forty minutes later than the Sun and lost in the evening twilight. Give it a miss this month.
 
Venus. Only visible low in the western evening sky very early in March as it moves to inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 25th after which it moves into the eastern morning sky. Telescopically Venus will show a thin crescent to the observer but be aware of the dangers of accidentally having the telescope line up with the Sun and suffering severe eye damage.

  Earth. At its Autumnal equinox on the 20th.

   Mars. The 1st of the month finds Mars low in the western evening sky in Pisces, just nine degrees to the east of the thin crescent of a two day old Moon. As it moves eastward against the background stars it will cross into Aries on the 9th where it remains for the rest of the month. It will get its second visit from a two day old moon for the month which will be seven degrees to the south of Mars on the 30th.

  Jupiter. At the beginning of March Jupiter will rise at 9: 30pm but by the end of the month will enter the eastern sky at 6:20pm and in a great position for observation all night long. Even a small telescope or even binoculars will reveal the four Galilean moons orbiting this gas giant and it is well worth spending some time observing them. The Moon moves past Jupiter on the 14th and 15th of March.
  Saturn. Having just moved into Sagittarius at the end of last month, Saturn now has plenty of companions. During the course of the month it moves ever closer the Trifid and Lagoon nebulae, ending the month less than a degree from the Magnitude 8 scattered open cluster NGC 6469. The waning crescent Moon stands five degrees away on the 21st of the month.

Moon Phase for March 2017:

5th   13th   21st   28th

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April 2017

   Mercury. This is not a good month to be observing the inner planet. Located low in the western twilight just after the Sun has set, and because of the sharp angle of the ecliptic to the horizon Mercury will set only forty minutes later than the Sun even when the planet is at its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on the 1st of the month. It will be at inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 20th after which it returns to the morning sky.

Venus. Also returning to the morning sky this month is the planet Venus. After going through inferior conjunction with the Sun last month the "Morning Star" rises only forty five minutes before the Sun at the beginning of the month but by the end of April will rise a full three hours before the Sun. It spends the entire month hovering around the circlet of stars forming the head of one of the fish of Pisces where it is joined by the waning crescent Moon on the 24th of the month.

   Mars. The red planet is located low in the western sky after sunset during the month of April, beginning the month in Aries and moving into Taurus on the 13th. Mars passes within four degrees of the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster between the 18th and the 23rd and the two day old waxing crescent Moon sits five degrees to the south of Mars on the 28th of the month.
  Jupiter. This is an ideal month to be observing Jupiter. It comes to opposition on the 8th when it will cross the meridian at midnight. It will rise around 6:30pm at the beginning of the month and nearly two hours earlier by the end of the month. Jupiter spends the entire month in Virgo where in encounters the full Moon on the 10th and 11th and even being this close to the Moon does not detract significantly from the observation of this giant planet.
  Saturn. Still floating around in Sagittarius, Saturn will be rising at 10:00pm early in April but by the end of the month should cross the eastern horizon as early as 8:15pm. This planet is a magnificent sight even in small telescopes and any opportunity to observe it should not be missed. The waning gibbous moon will be four degrees to the north of the ringed planet on the 16th.

Moon Phase for April 2017:

4th   11th  19th  26th   

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May 2017

   Mercury. The inner planet has returned to the eastern morning sky at the beginning of a month which should prove to be ideal for the observation of this elusive body. The first morning of May finds Mercury rising well over an hour before the Sun and just one degree from the gas giant Uranus. It will reach its greatest elongation west of the Sun on the 18th in Pisces, when it rises two hours before the Sun. It moves into Cetus on the 20th and into Aries on the 24th. On this day the waning crescent Moon will be two degrees to the south west of Mercury.

Venus. The Brilliant Venus is high in the eastern morning sky well before sunrise for the whole month of May and rises earlier each morning as the month progresses. The "Morning Star" spends the entire month in Pisces although it skims the boundary of Cetus on the 11th, encountering the waning crescent Moon on the 22nd and 23rd. Get ready for its conjunction with the Magnitude 5.88 Uranus early next month.

   Mars. Not much to offer from the red planet this month as it is low in the western evening twilight and setting an hour later than the Sun for most of May. Those with a very good western horizon may be able to spot Mars and the thin crescent of a waxing Moon on the 27th.

  Jupiter. Rising at 4:00 pm at the beginning of the month, Jupiter is high in the eastern sky after sunset and in an ideal position for early evening observation. Even a good pair of binoculars will reveal the four Galilean moons and the program "Jupiter 2", which is a free download, will help in the identification of these bodies.  The Moon will be just to the north of Jupiter on the 7th and 8th of May.

  Saturn. The ringed planet begins the month in Sagittarius just to the west of the familiar teapot asterism. It rises around 8:00pm at the start of May but by the end of the month will rise a full two hours earlier. Because of its retrograde motion against the background stars at the moment it will cross back into Ophiuchus on the 17th where it spends the rest of the month.  The waning gibbous Moon sits eight degrees to the east of Saturn on the 15th of the month.

Moon Phase for May 2017:

3rd   11th   19th   26th  

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June 2017


The Sun:    Moves from Taurus into Gemini on the 22nd.

   Mercury:    Visible in the early morning sky for the first half of June on its journey back to superior conjunction with the Sun on the 21st of the month. It then returns to the western evening sky and hard to spot for the rest of the month.

Venus:    In conjunction with the gas giant Uranus on the 3rd of the month, the "Morning Star" is prominent in the morning sky rising over three hours before the Sun for the whole month. It begins the month in Pisces, crossing into Aries on the 11th and finishing the month in Taurus on the 29th and 30th. The waning crescent Moon is less than two degrees to the north of Venus on the morning of the 21st of the month.

 The Earth:    The Sun reaches its most northerly declination on the 21st announcing the southern hemisphere's winter solstice.

  Mars:    Too close to the Sun for safe observation until September when it will be once again in the early morning sky.
  Jupiter:    High in the north eastern sky after sunset and shining at magnitude -2.3, Jupiter is easy to identify among the stars of Virgo. The 2.8 magnitude star just over three degrees to the north-west of Jupiter is Porrima (gamma Virginis), a celebrated double star 36 light years away. It consists of a pair of 3.6 magnitude yellow-white suns with an orbital period of 172 years and at their closest to each other (periastron) in 2008 were a challenge to split in amateur telescopes. They may be worth observing as they move apart from each other. A waxing gibbous Moon passes to the north of Jupiter on the 3rd and 4th of June.

  Saturn:    The ringed planet comes to opposition on the 15th when it will cross the meridian at midnight. Rising at 6:00 pm at the beginning of June, it will be rising a full two hours earlier by the end of the month and in an ideal position for early evening observation. Retrograding in Ophiuchus it will move westward two degrees against the background stars over the course of the month. The ninety nine percent full Moon sits close to Saturn on the 9th and 10th of the month.

Moon Phase for June 2017:

1st   9th   17th  24th  

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July 2017

    Mercury:    The smallest planet sets 50 minutes later than the Sun at the beginning of July and hard to spot in the western twilight. Opportunities to observe this elusive body improve however as the month progresses and by the end of the month will set over two hours later than the Sun. The two day old crescent Moon sits three degrees below Mercury on the 25th of the month and on the 26th Mercury will lie one degree to the south of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. This is a blue-white star of magnitude 1.4 and is 85 light years away from the Earth.

Venus:  The "Morning Star" spends almost the entire month crossing Taurus-The Bull before moving into Gemini on the 30th of the month. On the 13th it passes within eleven arcminutes of epsilon Tauri, the 3.5 magnitude star marking the fainter eye of the bull, appearing to give Taurus a bright new shining eye. The waning crescent Moon sits six degrees to the east of Venus on the 21st of the month.

 Mars:   Forget about Mars until the end of September as the red planet will be in conjunction with the Sun on the 27th of this month.

Jupiter:  The giant planet, having risen at midday will be high in the northern sky by nightfall at the beginning of July and in an ideal position for early evening observing. The first quarter Moon is four degrees to the south of Jupiter on the 1st and the pair have another encounter on the 28th and 29th of the month. The first magnitude bright star to the south-east of Jupiter is Spica, the brightest star in Virgo which is a blue-white star 260 light years away.

  Saturn:  The ringed planet, slowly retrograding against the background stars of Ophiuchus, is high in the north-eastern sky after sunset at the beginning of the month. This is an ideal month to observe this magnificent planet with its amazing 63,000 kilometer wide ring system visible even in small telescopes. The retrograde motion of Saturn can be observed by watching the slow narrowing of the gap between Saturn and xi Ophiuchi, the 4.5 magnitude star just to the west of Saturn. A waxing gibbous Moon joins Saturn on the 7th of the month.

Moon Phase for July 2017:

1st   9th   17th  23rd  31st

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August 2017

   Mercury. Only visible in the western sky just after sunset for the first half of August as it moves toward inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 27th of the month. It begins the month in Leo and moves into Sextans on the 5th where it will stay until its conjunction with the Sun.

Venus. Rising well over two hours before the Sun at the beginning of August, Venus is on its journey back toward the Sun for superior conjunction in January 2018. On the last day of the month it will sit just over two degrees to the west of the Beehive Cluster in Cancer and rises a little more than ninety minutes before the Sun. It will be four degrees to the east of a waning crescent Moon on the 19th.

   Mars. The red planet moved into the morning sky last month but remains too close to the Sun for observation until late September
  Jupiter. Still loitering among the stars of Virgo, Jupiter will be setting at 10:40pm at the beginning of the month but by month's end will depart the evening sky around 9:00pm. On the 12th Jupiter will be within one degree of magnitude 4.4 theta Virginis, a double star 140 light years away and visible in small telescopes. It consists of a pair of blue-white components of magnitudes 4.4 and 8.6. On the 25th a fifteen percent lit crescent Moon lies five degrees to the west of Jupiter.
  Saturn. High in the north-eastern sky after sunset, Saturn is still in an ideal position for observation this month. It continues its retrograde motion against the background stars of Ophiuchus until the 26th when it comes to a standstill, ceasing its retrograde travels and resumes its west to east motion, heading slowly back toward Sagittarius. A waxing gibbous Moon lies four degrees to the north of Saturn on the 3rd and the planet encounters a sixty percent lit gibbous Moon on the 30th of the month.

Moon Phase for August 2017:

8th (Partial Eclipse)   15th   22nd   29th   

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September 2016

   Mercury. The inner planet begins the month in the western evening sky setting over one hour later than the Sun for the first few days of September. However this appearance is short lives as it swiftly moves back toward the Sun and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. After conjunction it moves into the eastern morning twilight where on the 29th reaching its greatest elongation west of the Sun. This will not be a very good time to view the planet because at its best will rise only forty minutes earlier than the Sun and be hidden in the early morning twilight. A waning crescent Moon rises twenty minutes before Mercury on the 29th of the month.

Venus. The "Evening Star" sets almost two hours later than the Sun on the 1st of September and is the brightest object in that part of the sky until joined by the waxing crescent Moon on the 3rd. The Planets Jupiter and Mercury sit just west of and in close proximity to Venus for the first few days of the month but Venus swiftly moves away from this pair. On the 18th and 19th Venus passes three degrees to the north of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. This star is a magnitude 1.0 blue-white sun 260 light years away and is an eclipsing binary varying by about 0.1 of a magnitude every four days. Venus moves from Virgo into Libra on the last day of the month.

   Mars. The red planet spends the first two days of the month in Scorpius, five degrees to the east of its rival Antares, before joining Saturn in Ophiuchus on the 3rd. Its ruddy glow is very apparent high in the northern sky after the Sun has set. Mars moves eastward against the background stars of Ophiuchus, passing the 7.2 magnitude globular cluster M19 on the 6th and 7th before crossing into Sagittarius on the 22nd of the month. On the last day of the month Mars passes within a few arc minutes of Magnitude 8.3 globular cluster NGC 6553. On the 9th the Moon passes 8 degrees to the north of Mars.

  Jupiter. Only visible in the western twilight sky for the first few days of the month and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 26th, appearing in the early morning twilight at the end of October. The two day old waxing crescent Moon sits between Jupiter and Venus on the 3rd of the month.

  Saturn. Still among the stars of Ophiuchus and high in the north-western sky after the Sun has set at the start of September. Six degrees to the south of Saturn is the bright red giant Antares, the star marking the heart of the scorpion and the sixteenth brightest star in the sky. It is a semi-regular variable, fluctuating between magnitudes 0.9-1.1 or fainter approximately every five years. Antares is 330 light years away. Originally, in ancient Greek times and earlier, Scorpius was a much larger constellation, but the stars that once made up its claws have now been used to form the separate constellation of Libra. The Sun passes briefly through Scorpius during the last week of November. The Moon sits below and to the north of Saturn on the 8th and 9th of the month.

Moon Phase for September 2016:

1st   9th   17th   23rd

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October 2016

   Mercury. Hidden in the glare of the early morning twilight this month, Mercury is best left until November when it returns to the western evening sky. At its best at the beginning of this month it rises only forty minutes before the Sun and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 28th.

Venus. The "Evening Star" begins October high in the western evening sky setting two and a half hours later than the Sun. It begins the month in Libra, where on the 6th it passes less than a degree to the south of alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi), the star that in ancient times marked the southern claw of Scorpius. Venus moves into Scorpius on the 18th where by the end of October it will be setting a full three hours later than the Sun. On the 20th and 21st it passes less than a degree to the north of magnitude 2.3 delta Scorpii, the star marking the head of the great scorpion and for the last three days of the month will be just to the south of Saturn.

   Mars. On the first day of October Mars is within half a degree of the magnitude 8.3 globular cluster NGC 6553 after which it moves eastward to another globular the magnitude 6.9 M 28 on the 6th. The next day finds the red planet less than half a degree to the south of magnitude 2.8 lambda Sagittarii (Kaus Borealis), an orange giant sun 98 light years away. It spends the rest of the month crossing the beautiful star fields of Sagittarius. The waxing Moon will be seven degrees to the north of Mars on the 8th of the month.

  Jupiter. Too close to the Sun until late in the month when it will be rising one hour before the Sun.

  Saturn. Conspicuous among the star fields of Ophiuchus and readily identified by its subtle yellow hue, Saturn continues its painfully slow easterly migration against the background stars only covering slightly more than two degrees for the whole month. It will be setting by 9:30 by the end of the month and on the 29th Saturn and Venus will set only five minutes apart. Make the most of this month as toward the end of next month Saturn will be getting to close to the Sun to be safely observed. The waxing crescent Moon passes four degrees to the north of Saturn on the 6th of October.

Moon Phase for October 2016:

1st  9th   16th   23rd  31st

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November 2016

   Mercury. The inner planet returns to the western evening sky this month but better observed late in the month when it has had the chance to move further east of the Sun. It will move from Scorpius into Ophiuchus on the 17th where on the 22nd it will pass less than four degrees to the south of the much brighter Saturn. The Moon, only one and a half days old will be a challenge to spot below and eight degrees to the north of Mercury.

Venus. High in the western evening sky and setting three hours later than the Sun, Venus outshines all comers except the three day old waxing Moon which it encounters to its north on the 2nd of the month. The "Evening Star" moves from Ophiuchus to Sagittarius on the 9th making a very close call on globular cluster NGC 6553 on the 13th before on the 16th sitting within a degree of globular cluster M 28 and the star that marks the lid of the teapot asterism, magnitude 2.8 lambda Sagittarii (Kaus Borealis). Two days later on the 18th the naked eye globular cluster magnitude 5.1 M22 receives a visit and is only three Moon widths to the north of Venus. The Sun passes through Sagittarius from mid-December to mid January.

   Mars. High in the north western sky after sunset, Mars spends the first seven days of the month in Sagittarius before crossing into Capricornus on the 8th where it spends the rest of the month. On the 7th magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 will be within half a degree of the planet. The waxing crescent Moon will be north of Mars on the 5th and 6th of November.

  Jupiter. Now visible in the early morning twilight and rising one hour earlier than the Sun as November begins, Jupiter will get easier to observe as the month progresses. By the end of the month it will rise two and a half hours earlier than the Sun, spending the entire month in Virgo where it is joined by a waning crescent Moon on the 24th and 25th.

  Saturn. The first half of November will be the last chance to get a descent look at Saturn as it sets ever closer to the Sun as the month slips by. The 1st of the month finds it low in the western evening twilight four degrees to the west of brilliant Venus and setting twenty five minutes earlier than Venus. On the 2nd the three-day-old waxing crescent Moon joins the two planets and should be well worth taking the time to observe. By the end of the month however Saturn will be too low in the western twilight for safe observation and setting thirty minutes later than the Sun.

Moon Phase for November 2016:

8th   14th   21st   29th

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December 2016

   Mercury. At the beginning of December Mercury can be found in the western evening twilight, setting ninety minutes later than the Sun. It reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 11th of December and begins its journey back toward the sun for inferior conjunction toward the end of the month. Mercury passes less than a degree to the south of magnitude 6.9 globular cluster M 28 on the 6th and two evenings later, one and a half degrees to the south of magnitude 5.1 globular cluster M22. The thin crescent of a two-day-old waxing Moon sits above and to the north of Mercury on the 1st of the month.

Venus. High in the western evening sky after sunset the Evening Star is unmistakable, shining brilliantly at magnitudes in excess of -4 for the entire month. On the 6th it will pass less than one degree to the south of magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75, while on the same day crossing from the very congested Sagittarius into Capricornus, a constellation devoid of any first or second magnitude stars. The four-day-old waxing crescent Moon sits ten degrees to the south east of Venus on the 3rd of December.

   Mars. The red planet begins the month in Capricornus before crossing into Aquarius on the 15th. It will be setting around 11:20pm at the beginning of the month but by month's end departs the sky a full hour earlier. On New Years Eve Mars will be within a couple of arcminutes of the gas giant Neptune and well worth a telescopic observation. There will be a vast variation in the brightness of the two with Mars at magnitude 0.88 and Neptune much fainter at magnitude 7.9. The waxing crescent Moon will be four degrees to the north west of Mars on the fourth day of the month.

  Jupiter. This giant world can be found high in the eastern morning sky before dawn this month. It will rise two hours and forty-five minutes before the Sun on the 1st of December and by the end of the month will be rising almost five hours before the Sun. On the 22nd the waning crescent moon lies three degrees to the north of Jupiter.

  Saturn. In conjunction with the Sun on the 10th and not visible until the end of the month when it will rise barely one hour before the Sun. Best left for the early risers next month.

Moon Phase for December 2016:

7th   14th   21st   29th

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