Solar system showing relative size of (but not distance between) planets.
0

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

Mercury

The planet Mercury, image by NASA/JPL

On January 1, Mercury is already washed from view by the Sun's glow as the littlest planet passes behind the Sun as seen from Earth. It becomes visible in the early evening sky in late-January. Its separation from the Sun increases until February 10, when it sets 90 minutes after the Sun. After that, it gradually retreats back toward the Sun and disappears into the glow until early March, when it rises before dawn. On March 18, it's close to—although not part of—the spectacular predawn massing of the Moon with the planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.

The crescent Moon is near Mercury just after sunset on January 25, but both may be obscured by the Sun's glare. Their next pairing on February 23 is completely washed from view by the Sun, and their predawn encounter on March 21 is, again, difficult in the glow of sunrise.

0

Venus

The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

All season, Venus is increasingly prominent in the western sky just after dark, prompting some to call it the "evening star." An hour after sunset in early January, it's 17 degrees above the horizon, 25 degrees high at the same time in early February, and 30 degrees high in early March. It reaches its greatest eastern elongation on March 24, when its angular separation from the Sun is 44 degrees and it sets nearly four hours after sunset.

The waxing crescent Moon passes close to Venus for some very pretty pairings on the evenings of January 27, February 26 and 27, and March 27 and 28.

0

Mars

The planet Mars, image by NASA

The Red Planet is a predawn object this season, rising about three hours before the Sun. On January 16, Mars is about five degrees from the reddish star Antares. This star is the brightest in Scorpius the Scorpion, representing the Scorpion's heart, and is named after Mars ("Antares" = "rival of Mars"). During the season, Mars moves eastward faster than Jupiter and Saturn, which are also in the predawn sky. It passes close to Jupiter on March 20 and Saturn on March 31, but the waning crescent Moon gets in on the act and provides a few fine spectacles as well.

On the morning of January 20, the Moon and Mars are separated by about three degrees, with Antares nearby. On February 18, a rare lunar occultation of Mars occurs, as the Moon moves in front of Mars and blocks it from our view. As seen from the West Coast, the Moon will rise already hiding Mars from sight, and skywatchers timing their observations carefully may see Mars reappear from behind the Moon's dark face shortly after moonrise (additional information can be found in Highlights). On March 18, the Moon forms a compact grouping with Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn that rises in the southeast about 2.5 hours before the Sun.

0

Jupiter

The planet Jupiter, by NASA

In early January, Jupiter slowly emerges from the predawn glow and becomes visible by about mid-month, when it rises an hour before the Sun. Accompanied by Saturn and Mars, this provides several interesting predawn configurations in the southeast as they slowly move together through the season. On the morning of February 17, joined by the waning crescent Moon, they form a somewhat evenly-spaced line 37 degrees long. On March 4, the three planets are closer together, forming a line 15 degrees long with Jupiter exactly in the middle. This grouping is tightest on the morning of March 18, when the Moon rejoins the trio in a superb cluster that can be covered by your fist held at arm's length. Mars continues moving eastward, passing closest to Jupiter on March 21.

The waning crescent Moon can be seen near Jupiter before sunrise on January 22, February 19, and March 18, when the two are part of the above-mentioned cluster of objects, which includes Saturn and Mars.

0

Saturn

The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

The Ringed Planet is hidden from view by the Sun's glare until early February, when it starts creeping out of the predawn twilight, about 10 degrees east of brighter Jupiter. In the following weeks, the two planets slowly draw even closer together, to be joined by Mars in late February. The three worlds are packed within a space about six degrees in diameter on the morning of March 31 (that's about the width of three fingers, held together at arm's length).

The waning crescent Moon's pass near Saturn on the morning of January 23 occurs too near the Sun and is washed from view by the glare, but its subsequent encounters February 20, and March 18 and 19 are more easily visible, most notably on March 18, when Saturn, the Moon, Jupiter, and Mars are tightly-grouped together within a circle a little more than eight degrees in diameter.

0

Sunrise & Sunset Table

Times are 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 
All times PST

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

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

0

Experience the Wonder

Visit an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum—all under one living roof.