(All charts and times are calculated for Chicago, Illinois in the Central Time zone.)
The morning sky in 2017 offers bright planets and another Epoch (close) Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter and a very close conjunction of Venus and Mars.
The chart above shows the rising of planets and bright stars near the plane of the solar system. The stars are a starry background for the movement of the planets. The activity is shown in the eastern sky compared to sunrise. The chart also shows the setting times of Jupiter and Saturn during the morning hours. Except for those planets this chart shows activity in the eastern sky, where the stars and planets rise.
The year opens with Saturn and Mercury in the southeastern sky. Mercury appears in the morning sky four times during the year. During the spring appearance, the planet rises during bright twilight and is not high enough in the sky to be seen easily. During its late summer appearance, Mercury rises nearly 90 minutes before the sun, yet two other appearances place it for better viewing.
On January 19, Mercury reaches its greatest angular separation from the sun (24 degrees) and rises 95 minutes before the sun. Saturn is 12 degrees to the upper right of Mercury, rising nearly 2.5 hours before the sun. The star Antares is 14 degrees to the upper right of Saturn. Mercury then rapidly moves back into the sun’s glare. Saturn and Antares continue to rise earlier each morning appearing farther south and west each week as we revolve around the sun.
Venus begins its morning appearance when it passes between the earth and sun (inferior) conjunction on March 25. It rapidly climbs into the morning sky and by mid-April it reaches a period of greatest brilliancy that lasts for nearly a month. From April 15 to May 13, it is at its maximum brightness and gleaming exceptionally bright in a clear, predawn morning sky. On May 1, it rises about 100 minutes before the sun.
On April 23, the brilliant planet appears with the waning crescent moon. On this morning the pair is 8 degrees apart. Other close appearances of Venus and the moon occur on:
- May 22
- July 20
- August 19
- November 16
Venus continues its tour of the morning sky reaching its greatest separation from the sun on June 3 (46 degrees) rising over two hours before the sun.
During early July, Venus appears in the region of the bright star clusters (Pleiades and Hyades) in the constellation Taurus. Use binoculars to see this bright celestial gem against the starry background with these clusters. On July 13, Venus makes a nice pairing with Aldebaran and the Hyades Cluster. Venus passes other bright stars:
- Pollux, July 21, 7.3 degrees
- Regulus, September 19, 0.5 degrees
- Spica, November 1, 3.8 degrees.
Venus reaches its earliest rising time, nearly 3 hours before the sun during July 30 through August 9. It continues its descent back toward the sun, reaching solar conjunction in early 2018. Other events with Venus are detailed with the other planets below.
Jupiter begins the new year high in the south before sunrise. It does not appear on the rising chart as it rises over six hours before sunrise and it is beyond the time charted. Each night it appears slightly farther south until its activity is on the rising chart with the “Jupiter Sets” circles.
When Jupiter sets at sunrise, it is at opposition, meaning that the earth is between Jupiter and the sun. Jupiter’s opposition occurs on April 7. The planet rises at sunset, appears south at midnight, sets in the west at sunrise and it moves into the eastern evening sky.
On October 26, Jupiter passes behind the sun in its solar conjunction and reappears in the morning sky. It rises earlier each morning. As this occurs, Venus sets earlier during the autumn as it approaches its solar superior conjunction.
On the morning of November 13, Venus passes about one-third of a degree from Jupiter for another Epoch Conjunction. This chart shows the planetary pair about 40 minutes before sunrise. They rise about one hour before sunrise.
After the conjunction Venus continues its rapid descent into the sun’s brightness for a solar conjunction in early 2018.
Saturn appears in the morning sky as the year opens as outlined in the introduction section. By spring, Saturn is no longer charted in the morning eastern but it is rising well before sunrise and visible in the southern morning sky.
On the morning of April 16, the waning gibbous moon appears 5 degrees from Saturn. Saturn is nearly 19 degrees from Antares. It continues to appear farther west each morning until its properties appear as the “Saturn Sets” circles. On June 15, it reaches opposition when it sets at sunrise and it moves into the eastern evening sky.
The planet reaches solar conjunction on the far side of the sun on December 21 and it is not visible in the morning sky until early in 2018.
The Red Planet starts its 25-month appearance in the sky when it passes behind the sun at its solar conjunction on July 26. It slowly moves into the morning sky.
While difficult to see as the planets rise about an hour before sunrise. Mars and Mercury appear near the star Regulus on the morning of September 5. Mars and Regulus are slightly less than one degree apart. Use binoculars for your best views.
Mars continues to rise earlier and appear higher as daylight approaches. On September 16, Mars and Mercury appear together again, only 0.06 degree apart!
By early October, Mars rises 2 hours before the sun. On October 5, it passes 0.2 degree from Venus.
On November 28, Mars passes about 3.25 degrees from the star Spica.
Mars continues to rise earlier as the year ends. The rising chart above shows the Jupiter rising and Mars rising lines converging. The pair has a close conjunction during the opening days of 2018.
As noted throughout this article, the moon appears with bright stars and planets each month. Here are some morning events with the moon, stars and planets with noting:
- Moon and Saturn, January 24 & March 20
- Moon and Aldebaran, August 16
- Moon and Hyades Cluster, September 12
- Venus and Regulus, September 17
- Mars, October 17
- Venus and Jupiter, November 16
The morning sky during 2017 offers several opportunities for planet watching. Spectacular views of the moon and Venus as twilight begins provide memorable mornings. The year also presents another Epoch Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. While two widely-spaced conjunctions of the two planets occur in 2019. A close conjunction occurs with Venus and Mars this year as well. While Mars is not bright during these conjunctions, close conjunctions with Venus are noteworthy. Get outside. Take a look at the morning sky during 2017.
End Notes: 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)