Solar system showing relative size of (but not distance between) planets.

Keep tabs on our planets with Morrison Planetarium's quarterly guide to planetary activity.


The planet Mercury, image by NASA/JPL

In early January, the smallest and most elusive of the naked-eye planets is prominent in the predawn sky, reaching greatest western elongation on January 12, when it rises more than 90 minutes before dawn. Mercury then begins slowly orbiting around to the far side of the Sun from Earth, and as it retreats toward the Sun's glow, it passes 0.2° from Mars on January 27. After disappearing from view, it reaches superior conjunction on Feb 28, then moves around to the Sun's eastern side, gradually becoming visible in the evening sky by mid-March and reaching greatest eastern elongation on March 24.

Of the Moon's three close encounters with Mercury this season, only the one on the morning of January 9 is separated enough from the Sun to be seen, although the razor-thin sliver of the waning crescent Moon will be a challenge to spot in the twilight. The passes on February 8 and March 10 are even closer to the Sun and are both lost in the glare.



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

Venus remains the "morning star" through mid-March, when it swings around to the opposite side of the Sun from Earth and eventually vanishes in the glare. It makes a close approach to Mars on February 22 (less than 1° from it, very low in the east-southeast an hour before sunrise). It makes an even closer pass near Saturn on March 21, but this meeting is too close to the Sun and washed from view).

The Moon swings about 6° from Venus in the morning sky on January 8. It passes about the same distance from Venus on February 7, but this is closer to the Sun's glow and may be difficult in the morning twilight. The third encounter between the two this season occurs on the morning of March 8, but too close to the Sun to be seen in the glare.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

The Red Planet is a predawn object all year—difficult to see in the Sun's glow until February as it slowly rises earlier and gradually becomes more visible. This season, it moves from the stars of Sagittarius the Archer eastward through Capricornus the Sea-Goat and into Aquarius the Water-Carrier. However, the shallow angle of its path with respect to the horizon positions it very low at sunrise. As noted above, it appears very close to Venus on the morning of February 22, both rising a little more than an hour before the Sun.

All of the Moon's encounters with Mars on January 9, February 8, and March 8 are too close to the Sun and obscured by the glare.



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

Located high in the southeast at nightfall in January, the largest planet is very prominent against the stars of Aries the Ram, slowly moving toward the west through the season.

The Moon can be seen near Jupiter on the evenings of January 18, February 15, and March 13.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

Observers catch perhaps their last glimpse of Saturn in January, when it's located very low in the southwest just after sunset, against the stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier. In early February, the ringed planet descends into the glow of sunset and is washed from view, passing conjunction on February 28 and not becoming visible in the morning sky until late March.

The Moon is2.1° away from Saturn on the evening of January 13, when both are just far enough out of the glow of sunset to be seen. Their next encounter on February 10 is more difficult to see very low in the west-southwest just after sunset. Their meeting on March 9 takes place in the predawn sky but is too close to the Sun to be seen.


Sunrise and sunset table

Times are for San Francisco, California, and will vary slightly for other locations.

January 1 (PT)
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:02 am | 12:13 pm | 5:01 pm 

February 1 (PT)
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:13 am | 12:23 pm | 5:33 pm

March 1 (PT) 
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:39 am | 12:21 pm | 6:04 pm