What the Planets are doing this month


JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec


January 2018

   Mercury. The innermost planet reaches its greatest western elongation from the Sun on the second day of the New Year when it will be rising ninety minutes before the Sun. Make the most of the first half of January as by the end of the month Mercury will be too close to the Sun to be safely observed. On the 13th and 14th of the month  Mercury and Saturn will be less than one degree apart and on the 15th a thin waning crescent Moon lies less than six degrees to the west of Mercury.

Venus. Too close to the Sun for observation this month as it reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 9th of January. After conjunction it moves into the western evening sky, once again becoming the "Evening Star" and where it will remain until the end of October.

   Mars.   Jupiter. These two planets don't stray too far from each other for the entire month, never getting more than eleven degrees apart. They start the month in Libra only three degrees apart and close to alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi), Libra's second brightest star which on the ancient star charts marked the northern claw of the Scorpion. On its easterly journey against the background stars Mars will slip past Jupiter on the 7th when the two bodies will be less than half a degree apart and visible together in a telescopic eyepiece. The waning crescent Moon passes by the pair on the 11th and 12th of the month while Mars, continuing its eastward motion, slips into the mouth the scorpion on the last day of the month.

  Saturn. The ringed planet once again rejoins the morning twilight but probably too close to the Sun and too risky to observe until at least the middle of the month when it will rise ninety minutes before the Sun. By month's end it will rise almost three hours before the Sun and in a much darker sky. It will be in close conjunction with Mercury on the 13th and 14th and a waning crescent Moon will be four degrees to the north of Saturn on the 15th of the month.

Moon Phase for January 2018:

2nd   9th   17th   25th  31st *1st "Blue Moon" for 2018

The second Full Moon in a month is referred to as a "Blue Moon"

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February 2018 

   Mercury.  Venus. The two inner planets, Mercury and Venus are both too close to the Sun for observation this month. Mercury in at superior conjunction with the Sun on February the 17th, and moving from the early morning twilight to the early evening twilight. Venus, having passed superior conjunction last month has now entered the early evening sky but still a little close too the Sun to be observed safely. Best to find other things to look at this month.

   Mars. The red planet rises five hours before the Sun at the beginning of February but by the end of the month will rise just before midnight and a full six hours before the Sun. It spends the first eight days of the month in Scorpius, passing two degrees to the north of seventh magnitude globular cluster M80 on the 6th and moving into Ophiuchus on the 9th of the month. A waning crescent Moon joins Mars on the 9th and 10th of February.

  Jupiter. Balancing on the scales of Libra, the massive giant planet rises just before midnight as February begins but by the end of the month enters the eastern sky around 11:00pm. The waning crescent Moon is situated five degrees to the north of Jupiter on the 8th with beta Librae (Zubeneschamali) a further three degrees to the north. This magnitude 2.6 star is one of the very rare bright stars to show a distinct greenish tinge and lies at a distance of 120 light years.

  Saturn. The ringed planet is situated among the dense star fields of Sagittarius but readily identified by its subtle yellow hue. Because of its thirty year journey around the Sun it appears to move very little against the background stars and in fact only travels two degrees over the entire month. It will rise around 2:00am in the middle of the month and will be joined by the waning crescent Moon on the 12th of the month.

Moon Phase for February 2018:

8th   16th   23rd   * No Full Moon this month

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March 2018

   Mercury. March is not the best month to observe the illusive inner planet as even at its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on the 15th of the month it will be setting only forty minutes later than the Sun and hard to spot in the western twilight. This date will offer the best opportunity to view Mercury as the much brighter Venus will be situated four degrees to its south.
 
Venus. Having returned to the evening sky early in January, Venus is slowly increasing its eastern elongation from the Sun and by the end of March will set almost one hour later than the Sun. On the 19th of the month a thin waxing crescent Moon sits five degrees above Venus and on the 29th Venus will pass within half a degree of magnitude 5.8 Uranus. This will be a great opportunity to observe both planets in the same field of a wide field eyepiece.

   Mars. The red planet rises before midnight by the middle of March among the brilliant star fields of Sagittarius. It begins the month in Ophiuchus, moving into Sagittarius on the 12th and passing between the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae on the 19th and 20th of the month. Continuing on its eastward journey against the background stars it encounters the magnificent globular cluster M22 on the last day of the month, the pair being separated by just over one degree. Saturn is also close by on this date and only two degrees lies between the two planets. The last quarter Moon pays Mars a visit on the 10th of the month.

  Jupiter. At the beginning of the month Jupiter will be rising around 11pm and by the end of the month a full two hours earlier. It still hovers above the scales of Libra where it is joined by the Moon on the 7th and 8th of March. On the 10th it begins its four months of retrograde motion, moving from east to west against the background stars until the 10th of July when it will resume its eastward journey.
  Saturn. The ringed planet opens the month in Sagittarius within two degrees of magnitude 5.1 globular cluster M22 with the fainter globular NGC 6642 even closer and only one degree away. Because of its almost thirty year journey around the Sun, Saturn will keep this pair as companions for the entire month. Mars visits toward the end of the month and on the last day of the month is only eleven arc minutes from NGC 6642. With the two planets so close together this is a good time to note the apparent difference in colour of the two with Mars a distinct orange colour and Saturn sporting a subtle yellowish tone. The Moon also pays Saturn a visit on the 11th of March.

Moon Phase for March 2018:

2nd   9th   17th   25th   31st * 2nd "Blue Moon" for 2018

The second Full Moon in a month is referred to as a "Blue Moon"

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April 2018

   Mercury. After inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 2nd, Mercury returns the early morning eastern sky. Rising a little earlier than the sun each morning as the month progresses it reaches its greatest elongation west of the Sun on the 30th of the month. It spends most of April in Pisces, moving into Cetus on the 23rd where it remains for the rest of the month. The wafer thin crescent of the waning Moon rises forty minutes before Mercury on the 14th.

Venus. Setting almost one hour later than the Sun at the beginning of April, Venus is well on its way to becoming the brilliant "Evening Star". Setting slightly later than the Sun each day as the month progresses, by the end of the month it will set 90 minutes later than the Sun. It begins the month in Aries, crossing into Taurus on the 20th where it will spend a few days within five degrees of the magnificent Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster. The thin crescent of a waxing two day old Moon will set half an hour later than Venus on the 18th of the month.

   Mars and   Saturn. The red planet begins the month in Sagittarius, very close to Saturn and on the 3rd only 75 arcminutes separate the pair. Check out the different colours of the two with Mars a distinct orange and Saturn with its subtle yellow tinge. Mars quickly moves away from its yellow companion and by the end of April the two are separated by fourteen degrees. On the 1st of the month, Mars is less than half a degree from 8.8 magnitude globular cluster NGC 6642 and the next day passes a similar distance from the spectacular magnitude 5 globular cluster M22. The waning last quarter Moon makes an equilateral triangle with the two planets on the 8th of the month.
  Jupiter. The giant planet rises around 8:00pm at the start of the month but by month's end will cross the eastern horizon two hours earlier. Still retrograding in Libra it is joined by a waning gibbous Moon on the 4th of April.

The "JUPITER 2" program is a free download and will give you the positions of the Galilean moons for any date you set it for.

Moon Phase for April 2018:

 8th  16th   23rd   30th

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May 2018

   Mercury. For the first half of May, Mercury is in a good position for observation. In the early morning twilight the inner planet begins the month in Pisces and moves into Aries on the 16th of the month. It will be rising two hours before the Sun on the 1st but gets a little later as each day passes until the 26th when it will be close to the eastern horizon and rising less than an hour before the Sun making it harder to observe because of the glare of the Sun. On the 14th Mercury Uranus and the thin waning crescent Moon will be within a five degree circle and worth a look in a pair of binoculars.

Venus. Obvious in the early evening western sky not long after sunset the "Evening Star" begins the month in Taurus, moving into Gemini on the 20th. The next evening finds it less than one degree from the open cluster M35 with the pair accessible together in a wide field eyepiece. The third magnitude star epsilon Geminorum (Mebsuta) is swamped by the light of Venus on the 28th with the pair only a few arc minutes apart. The thin waxing crescent Moon pays Venus a visit on the 17th and 18th of May.

   Mars. The red planet rises around 10pm at the beginning of May but by the end of the month will cross the eastern horizon a full hour earlier. As it crosses from Sagittarius into Capricornus on the 14th it has a close encounter with the magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 with less than half a degree separating the two. M75 lie at a distance of 67,500 light years and because of its distance requires a fairly large telescope to begin resolving its stars. On the 5th and 6th of the month the waning gibbous Moon pays Mars a brief visit.

  Jupiter. The brilliant giant planet is at opposition on the 9th of this month and in an ideal position for observation all night long. Even small binoculars will reveal the dancing Galilean moons changing their positions from night to night in relation to the planet and to each other. Jupiter is retrograding at the moment and by the end of the month sits less than a degree from magnitude 2.9 alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi), a star that on the ancient star charts marked the southern claw of the scorpion. An almost full Moon visits Jupiter on the 1st and again on the 27th of the Month.

  Saturn. The magnificent ringed planet rises around 9:00pm at the beginning of May but by the end of the month will be rising a full two hours earlier. This magnificent planet has no equal as a spectacle in the entire solar system and even a small telescope will highlight its magnificent ring system. Make the most of this apparition as the angle of the rings as seen from the Earth will slowly close down over the next few years until by 2025 when the rings will appear to disappear for a short time. On the 4th of the month only three degrees separate Saturn and the waning gibbous Moon.

Moon Phase for May 2018:

8th  15th  22nd   19th  

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June 2018


   Mercury:    The inner planet reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 6th before entering the western evening twilight. It will not be safely observable until the middle of the month when it resides in Gemini where on the 25th it will be in conjunction with magnitude 1.1 Pollux (beta Geminorum), an orange giant which lies at a distance of 36 light years. At Magnitude 0.38, Mercury will be the brighter of the two.

Venus:    Brighter than all other heavenly bodies except the Sun and the Moon, Venus can easily lay claim to the title of the "Evening Star". At the start of June Venus is also in Gemini and setting two and a half hours later than the Sun. It will move into Cancer on the 12th of the month where it passes less than half a degree from the centre of M44 (The Beehive Cluster) on the 20th before moving into Leo on the 29th. A thin waxing crescent Moon sits less than a degree to the west of Venus on June 16th.

  Mars:    The red planet will be rising just prior to 9:00pm at the onset of June but by the end of the month will crest the eastern horizon around 7:15pm. It spends the entire month in Capricornus where it encounters the Moon twice this month, once on the 3rd and again on the 30th. There are no stars brighter than 3rd magnitude in this constellation so brilliant Mars dominates the entire scene. The magnitude 7.5 globular cluster M30 is worth a look at while you are in that area of the sky. It can be located three degrees to the east of magnitude 3.7 zeta Capricornus.
  Jupiter:    The giant planet spends the entire month retrograding in Libra and for the first nine days within one degree of Zubenelgenubi (The Southern Claw), Libra's second brightest star. At the beginning of the month Jupiter rises around 3:30pm and so by nightfall can be located high in the eastern sky in an ideal location for observation. The Moon will bypass Jupiter between the 23rd and 24th of June.

  Saturn:    The magnificent ringed planet reaches opposition on the 27th of the month and will be in a position for observation for the entire night. In Sagittarius, Saturn begins the month less than two degree from the fifth magnitude globular cluster M22 with the waning gibbous Moon six degrees to the east of the pair. The 5.8 magnitude asteroid Vesta is also nearby and less than five degrees to the north-west of Saturn on the 1st of the month. The full Moon encounters Saturn again on the 28th of the month.

Moon Phase for June 2018:

7th  14th   20th   28th  

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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 2017

   Mercury. This is not the best month to observe the elusive inner planet. Now in the eastern dawn sky and even at its greatest elongation from the Sun on the 12th Mercury will be hard to spot in the morning twilight. Because of the sharp angle of the ecliptic to the horizon it then rises only 40 minutes prior to the Sun. Mars and Mercury will be within five arcminutes of each other on the 17th but difficult to observe in the bright twilight sky.

Venus. The "Morning Star" begins the month in Cancer and on the 1st and 2nd within two degrees of M44, the Beehive star cluster. This is a swarm of around 75 stars visible as a misty patch to the naked eye and best observed in binoculars. It covers three times the area of the full Moon and is 520 light years away. Over the course of the month Venus continues its slow journey back toward the Sun, passing half a degree to the north of Regulus, Leo's brightest star on the 20th and finishing the month less than four degrees to the west of Mars. The waning crescent Moon pays Venus a visit on the 18th of the month.

   Mars. Now back in the early morning sky, the red planet rises only thirty minutes before the Sun on the 1st of the month and hard to spot in the bright twilight sky. By the end of the month however it will cross the eastern horizon fifty minutes earlier than the Sun and a little easier to observe. A waning thin crescent Moon joins both Mars and Mercury on the 19th less than four degrees separate Mars and the much brighter Venus at the end of the month.

  Jupiter. Low in the western sky after the Sun has set at the beginning of September; Jupiter will be setting earlier each evening as the month progresses and getting into the western twilight by the end of the month. The two day old waxing crescent Moon lies four degrees to the south west of Jupiter on the 22nd of September.

  Saturn. High in the north western sky after sunset Saturn is still in a great position for observation this month. It still resides among the sparse stars of Ophiuchus and easily identified with its subtle yellowish glow. With its rings tilted toward the earth as far as they get at the moment there is not a more spectacular site in any telescope. The waxing crescent Moon passes by Saturn on the 26th and 27th of the month.

Moon Phase for September 2017:

6th   13th   20th   28th  

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October 2017

   Mercury. The innermost planet is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 9th of the month and lost in the glare of the Sun until the last week of the month. It will be then visible in the western twilight sky and setting just over one hour later than the Sun by the last day of October.

Venus and     Mars.The "morning star" rises one hour before the Sun on the 1st of the month and is on its journey back to superior conjunction with the Sun in January. By the end of the month it will rise only forty minutes prior to the Sun and beginning to be lost in the glare of the Sun. The red planet on the other hand rises a little earlier than the Sun as the month progresses and by the end of October will cross the eastern horizon ninety minutes before the Sun. On the 31st Mars will be less than 14 arcminutes from Zaniah (eta virginis), a 3.9 magnitude star marking the left shoulder of the maiden. The best conjunction of the month occurs on the 6th when Venus and Mars will be just 14 arcminutes from each other with Venus outshining the red Mars by a factor of around two hundred. A thin waning crescent Moon joins the pair on the 18th of the month.

 
  Jupiter. Only visible low in the western twilight for the first few days of October after which it will be lost in the glare of the Sun. It is in conjunction with the Sun on the 27th of the month after which it moves into the morning sky and not visible until late in November.

  Saturn. By nightfall at the beginning of the month Saturn can be located high in the western evening sky among the stars of Ophiuchus and setting at 11:50pm. However by the end of October it will set an hour earlier so make the most of this month as the ringed planet will be in conjunction with the Sun in December, just before Christmas. A waxing crescent moon sits four degrees to the northwest of Saturn on the 24th of the month.

Moon Phase for October 2017:

6th   12th  20th  28th  

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November 2017

   Mercury. The inner planet is again located in the western twilight and setting a little over one hour later than the Sun at the beginning of the month. It begins the month in Libra, moving into Scorpius on the 6th, into Ophiuchus on the 12th and into Sagittarius on the 27th of the month. From the 25th to the end of the month it spends its time within four degrees of the planet Saturn. The two day old waxing crescent Moon lies seven degrees to the north of Mercury on the 20th.

Venus and   Jupiter. The beginning of November finds Venus low in the eastern twilight in Virgo and four degrees to the north of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. On the 13th and 14th Venus and Jupiter will be in close conjunction but rising only thirty minutes before the Sun and because of this proximity to the Sun extreme caution is advised when observing this pair. Venus is heading for conjunction with the Sun in mid January and the observation of Jupiter best left until next month when it will rise ninety minutes before the Sun.

   Mars. The red planet rises ninety minutes before the Sun among the stars of Virgo at the beginning of November. It will rise earlier as the month progresses until by the end of the month it will rise over two hours before the Sun and three degrees from Spica, Virgo's brightest star. On the 15th of November a waning crescent Moon will be situated four degrees to the north of Mars.

    Saturn. November is the last month to get a good view of Saturn as it will be in superior conjunction with the Sun in December. Setting around 11pm at the beginning of the month it will be high in the western evening sky after the sun has set and still in a good position for observation. From the 25th to the end of the month it will reside within four degrees of the inner planet, Mercury. The waxing crescent Moon is four degrees to the north of Saturn on the 21st of the month.

Moon Phase for November 2017:

4th   11th   18th    27th  

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December 2017

   Mercury. Low in the western evening sky at the beginning of December, Mercury will only be safely visible for the first week of the month. It swiftly moves to inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 13th after which it enters the early morning twilight sky. On the 7th Mercury will be less than two degrees to the south of Saturn but extreme caution is advised when observing this pair telescopically because of their close proximity to the Sun. By the end of the month Mercury will be rising ninety minutes before the Sun and in a better position for observation.

Venus. Too close to the Sun this month as Venus moves to superior conjunction with the Sun on the 9th of January.

   Mars. The red planet rises two hours before the Sun among the stars of Virgo at the beginning of December and three degrees to the north of Virgo's brightest star, Spica. It will cross into Libra on the 22nd and end the month two degrees to the west of alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi) when it will be rising three and a half hours before the Sun. The waning crescent Moon pays Mars a visit on the 14th of the month.

  Jupiter. The constellation Libra also plays host to the planet Jupiter this month. The giant planet rises ninety minutes before the Sun at the start of the month but by the end of December will cross the eastern horizon three and a half hours before the Sun. On the last day of the month Libra's second brightest star, alpha Librae sits ninety arcminutes to the west of Jupiter with the planet Mars a further two degree westward. The waning crescent Moon will be four degrees to the north-west of Jupiter on the 15th of the month. Coindecently the magnitude 7.9 asteroid Vesta will be within half a degree of the Moon also on the 15th.

  Saturn. Low in the western evening twilight after the Sun has set at the beginning of December, Saturn moves into superior conjunction with the Sun on the 22nd, appearing in the eastern twilight mid January. It would be best left until the end of January to observe the ringed planet.

Moon Phase for December 2017:

4th   10th  18th   26th

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