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

Hidden by the Sun's glow at the beginning of January, swift and elusive Mercury emerges into the early evening sky after mid-month, appearing in the west and setting after the Sun. It quickly separates from the Sun's glow, reaching greatest eastern elongation on January 23. Then, it retreats back into the twilight, passing inferior conjunction on February 8. It emerges on the other side of the Sun in the predawn glow and becomes visible in the east before sunrise, passing Jupiter on March 5 on the way to greatest western elongation on March 6. It then remains visible in the morning sky for the remainder of the month.

If they weren't so close to the Sun, the Moon's pass near Mercury on January 13 would be a) visible, and b) made more interesting by the presence of nearby Jupiter. Unfortunately, they'll be washed from view by the glare then and likewise for their meeting on February 10 and 11. However, their challenging encounter on March 10 will potentially be a rewarding one, located very low in the east-southeast just before sunrise, clustered within 14 degrees alongside Jupiter and Saturn in the growing twilight.



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

The only time we get to see Venus this season is in early January, when it's a predawn object, already in the process of sinking into the glow of the rising Sun. It's washed from view by the beginning of February, and is not visible for the rest of the season as it passes superior conjunction on March 25.

The Moon's close encounters with Venus are all technically in the predawn sky, but only the one on January 11 will be somewhat easy to see, very low in the southeast less than 45 minutes before sunrise. Their later passes on February 10 and March 12 will be too close to the Sun to be observed in the glare.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

The Red Planet is a prominent evening object all season, moving slowly westward and passing from the stars of the Zodiacal constellation Pisces the Fishes into Aries the Ram and then into Taurus the Bull. For an observing challenge, Mars can be used to locate faint, distant Uranus, which is within the same 7-degree field of view in most binoculars from about January 6-February 2. Note that when Mars and Uranus are closest to each other, the first quarter Moon is very nearby, washing pale-green Uranus from view with its light (learn more about Uranus in Highlights). Pay attention two months later, on March 20, when Mars passes seven degrees from the reddish star Aldebaran, which represents the eye of Taurus the Bull and whose color you can compare with that of Mars.

The Moon passes near Mars on the nights of January 20, closer on February 18, and March 19 (with Mars only seven degrees away, all three fitting in the same field of view in binoculars).



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

Following their spectacular close encounter in December, Jupiter and Saturn are slowly separating as they also disappear quickly into the glow of the setting Sun in January. They pass conjunction in January (Jupiter on the 18th) and emerge into the morning sky in late-February, when they're briefly joined by Mercury. By that time, Jupiter is east of Saturn.

The Moon passes near Jupiter on January 13 and 14 and February 10, although both are obscured by the Sun's glare. As Jupiter climbs into the predawn sky, the waning crescent Moon will be seen passing five degrees to its south on the morning of March 10, with Saturn and Mercury clustering nearby.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

Like Jupiter, the Ringed Planet becomes hidden from view in the Sun's glare at the beginning of January. It passes conjunction five days after Jupiter, on January 23, then slowly continues westward and enters the predawn sky, rising before the Sun. By late-February, Mercury joins Jupiter and Saturn in the twilight, although they'll be difficult to observe in the Sun's glare.

Since Jupiter and Saturn are still so close together in the sky, the Moon passes near Saturn on almost the same dates that it passes near Jupiter, on January 13, February 10, and March 9. Of this season's three encounters, this is the one that skywatchers have the best chance to see, very low in the southeast, just before dawn.


Sunrise & sunset table

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

January 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:24 am | 12:13 pm | 5:01 pm 

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

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