2016: Five Planets Field Report

Photo by Tim S., February 5, 2016, Rochester Michigan. Nikon D3100. NIKKOR 10.5 mm fisheye lens. 1 second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 400.

Photo by Tim S., February 5, 2016, Rochester Michigan.
Nikon D3100. NIKKOR 10.5 mm fisheye lens. 1 second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 400.  Click the image to see it larger.

Field Report: The five naked-eye planets as seen from Rochester, Michigan on February 5, 2016.

2016, Saturn & Moon, Five Planets

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In the show of the five naked eye planets, the moon appears near Saturn on February 3.  Look southward for the moon at about an hour before sunrise.  The planet Saturn is about 4 degrees to the lower left of the moon with the star Antares nearby.  Mars is farther to the south and bright Jupiter is in the western sky.  Brilliant Venus appears low in the southeast, with Mercury about 6 degrees to the lower left.

For more about the seeing the five naked eye planets:

2016:  Five Planets in the Morning Sky, January-February

2016: Five Planets, Mercury & Venus, January 28

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Clear skies prevailed this morning in the Chicago area.  The four bright planets spread across the sky from east to west, with Jupiter near the moon.  Mercury, however, was more elusive.  Rising behind the trees and into bright twilight, it took binoculars to see it.  In the image above, Mercury is at the tree top.  Click the image to see it larger.

2016: Mars & Moon, Five Planets, February 1

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To see the five naked eye planets on the morning of February 1, look south for the moon.  Reddish Mars is 2 degrees to the lower right of the moon.  (One degree is the apparent size of 2 full moons.)  Brilliant Venus gleams from the southeast.  Mercury is nearly 7 degrees to the lower left of Venus.  Saturn lies nearly midway between Venus and the moon with the star Antares nearby.  Bright Jupiter is in the west.

The chart above shows the planets about 45 minutes before sunrise in the Chicago area.  For other locations, determine your local sunrise and look about 45 minutes before local sunrise.

For more about the seeing the five naked eye planets:

2016:  Five Planets in the Morning Sky, January-February

2016: Five Planets in Morning, Jupiter & Moon

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To locate the five planets during late January 2016, the moon appears near Jupiter on the mornings of January 27 and January 28.  Venus is the brightest starlike object, appearing low in the southeast.  Viewing with a clear horizon, Mercury appears to the lower left of Venus.  The bright star near the moon in Jupiter.  Saturn appears to the upper right of Venus, above the star Antares.  Mars appears between Antares and Spica.

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Jupiter rises in the east during mid-evening.  The chart above shows Jupiter and the moon on the evenings of January 26 and January 27.  During the night the pair appears to move westward.  By 6:15 a.m. CST they are in the southwest with the other planets trailing behind.

For more about the seeing the five naked eye planets:

2016:  Five Planets in the Morning Sky, January-February

2016: Five Planets in Morning Sky, January-February

This chart shows the eastern morning sky from January 14, 2016 through March 31, 2016.

This chart shows the eastern morning sky from January 14, 2016 through March 31, 2016.  The chart was calculated from data provided by the U.S Naval Observatory.

The brilliant Morning Star Venus continues to gleam from the eastern morning sky in early 2016.  The chart above shows the rising of Venus, Mercury, Saturn, the star Antares and the moon compared to sunrise from January 14, 2016 through March 31, 2016.  In addition Jupiter is shown setting in the west before sunrise.  When Jupiter sets at sunrise in mid-March, it is opposite the sun, the astronomical event known as opposition.  The interpretation of this chart is the topic of this article.

Important features above:

Before Astronomical Twilight (AT) the sky is as dark as it gets naturally.  The sun is too far below the horizon to illuminate the sky or anything on the ground.  AT is about 100 minutes long during  the mornings shown the chart.  During AT the sky begins to brighten to Nautical Twilight (NT), when the sky is bright enough to distinguish the horizon.  The NT phenomenon is usually used by mariners to make measurements of celestial objects’ positions in the sky relative to the horizon for navigation purposes, occurring about 70 minutes before sunrise.  The sky brightens further as the sun nears the horizon when objects on the ground are clearly distinguishable.  During Civil Twilight (CT), Venus and the moon are visible, but other planets and stars are not seen.  CT begins about 30 minutes before sunrise.

On the chart above, Venus rises before the beginning of AT until February 8.  It is easily visible in the eastern sky throughout the time shown on the chart.

Mercury jumps into the morning sky, rising during CT until January 16.  By January 22, it rises at NT.  The planet does not rise before the beginning of AT during this appearance.  The planet is very elusive, unless you know where to look for it.  Another bright star, planet or the moon are helpful in locating Mercury; it rises before NT until mid-February.

Notice that on the chart, the Venus rising line and Mercury rising line do not cross.  There is not a conjunction of the two planets where one passes the other.  From late January through late February, Venus and Mercury appear near each other.  Then Mercury rapidly disappears into bright twilight and into the sun’s glare.

The moon is displayed with a series of circles showing its rising time as calculated for Chicago, Illinois.  Notice that the moon rises at about the same time as Venus on February 6 and March 7.

Five Planets in Sky

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As Mercury moves into the sky, the five naked-eye planets are visible from east to west.  Venus first catches our eye in the southeast.  Dimmer, elusive Mercury is  7 degrees to the lower left of Venus; at chart time, Mercury is a week before its greatest separation from the sun.  Saturn and the star Antares are higher in the south.  Saturn is distinctly yellow-orange in color is Antares is a ruddy color.  The color of the words “Saturn” and “Antares on the chart are indicative of their colors in the sky.

On the initial chart on this article, Saturn and Antares appear to rise at the same time.  Antares is over 7 degrees from the planet and farther south.  Antares is near the ecliptic, the imaginary line in the sky where the planets appear.  With the planet-star separation, they can rise at the same time but be farther apart on the sky.

The moon is high in the south at chart time with reddish Mars 10 degrees to the lower left of the earth’s satellite.  Jupiter is the bright star in the western sky.  It is the brightest celestial sight in the western sky, yet over 4 times dimmer than Venus.

Venus and Mercury

As mentioned above, Venus and Mercury do not pass each other during this morning appearance of Mercury, but their rising times above indicate that they appear close together.

Here are important events to observe.

  • January 31, 2016.  As noted in the previous section, Mercury is over 7 degrees to the lower left of Venus.
  • February 6, 2016.  The crescent moon joins Mercury and Venus.  Venus-Mercury = 5 degrees; Moon-Mercury = 3 degrees.

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  • February 12, 2016.  Mercury and Venus are closest at 4 degrees separation.

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  • February 29, 2016.  The planets are 7 degrees apart with Mercury rising just before the beginning of CT.  What is the last day you can see Mercury without optical aid?  What is the last day you can see Mercury through binoculars or a telescope?

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  • March 7, 2016:  On its monthly passage through the firmament, the moon is near Venus again.  The thin crescent moon rises at Nautical Twilight and Venus follows about 10 minutes later, about 50 minutes before sunrise.  Find a clear horizon and look for them.

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The first few months of the new year, provides an opportunity to see five planets in the morning sky and a long-lasting tandem of Venus and Mercury.    Share your observations with us in the comments section.

2016: The Evening Sky

 

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The chart shows the setting times of the planets visible without a telescope and stars near the solar system’s orbital plane for 2016.  Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are also represented with their rising times during the evening.  While the chart represents the activity in the western evening sky, the three outer planets rise in the east and are display until they rise at sunset, their opposition dates.  When they rise at sunset, appear in the south at midnight and set in the west at sunrise.  The earliest event shown begins 5 hours after sunset.  The moon’s appearance for each lunar cycle begins at the bottom the chart and it is represented by circles with indicating the dates.  The three twilight lines are defined at the end of the article.

Summary

The year opens with a single planet in the evening sky, Mercury.  On January 1, it sets about 80 minutes after  the sun in the southwestern sky.  The speedy planet moves quickly between morning and evening sky.  The best evening appearance occurs during mid-April.

Venus begins an evening appearance during the second half of the year as it slowly emerges into the evening sky after superior conjunction.  It passes Mercury twice (mid-July and early August.) Venus passes Jupiter on August 27.  This is another “Epoch Conjunction” between the two planets.  They appear to nearly merge with a separation of only 7 arc-minutes!  This conjunction occurs during  twilight, but the two planets are easily seen.

Venus passes Saturn later in the year,

Notice that Mars enters the chart later in the year.  By year’s end the chart indicates that Venus and Mars are converging.  In early 2017, Venus moves to about 5 degrees of Mars but there is no conjunction.

Twilight Definitions

Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.

Nautical twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening, when the center of the sun is  12 degrees below the horizon. At the beginning or end of nautical twilight, under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other lighting, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable. During nautical twilight the illumination level is such that the horizon is still visible even on a Moonless night.

Astronomical twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. Before the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning and after the end of astronomical twilight in the evening, light from the Sun is less than that from starlight and other natural sources. For a considerable interval after the beginning of morning twilight and before the end of evening twilight, sky illumination is so faint that it is practically imperceptible. (Source)

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