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

Although technically in the predawn sky, Mercury is too near the Sun to be easily seen, rising in the southeast less than an hour before dawn. As it gradually swings around to the far side of our star as seen from Earth, Mercury's angular separation from the Sun in the sky shrinks, and the smallest planet disappears into the glow, passing superior conjunction, when it's located behind the Sun, on January 29. It emerges from the glare in late-February for a brief appearance in the evening sky, setting an hour after the Sun, reaching greatest eastern elongation on the 26th and is separated from the Sun by 18 degrees. It quickly retreats back into the twilight, washed from view by the glow as inferior conjunction (located between Earth and the Sun) occurs on March 14.

The Moon's passes near Mercury will likely be too close to the Sun to be observable, occurring very low in the east on the morning of January 4, almost directly against the Sun on February 4 and definitely not visible, and on March 7, when both are very low in the west less than an hour after sunset, perhaps visible...but likely only to experienced skywatchers.



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

Venus is at greatest western elongation on January 5, when it's 47 degrees from the Sun, rising three hours before the Sun against the stars of Libra the Scales and commanding the predawn sky (some call it the Morning Star at this time). After elongation, it slowly creeps back toward the Sun, although it remains visible in the predawn sky for the entire season. It passes from Libra through Scorpius the Scorpion, Sagittarius the Archer, Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer, Capricornus the Sea-Goat, and finally Aquarius the Water-Carrier. Along the way, it passes close to Jupiter on January 22 and Saturn on February 18.

The waning crescent Moon passes Venus on January 1, even closer on January 31, and again on March 2.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

Since Mars and the Sun are moving at about the same speed and in the same direction against the stars this season, the Red Planet steadily holds its position in the early evening sky, shining prominently in the southwest just after sunset in January and February, slowly moving into the west by March. During that time, Mars inches through the stars of Pisces the Fishes into Aries the Ram, ending up in Taurus the Bull by the end of March. Along the way, it passes very near (about one degree from) Uranus on February 12.

The Moon passes near Mars on the evenings of January 12, February 10, and March 10 and 11.



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

In January, Jupiter continues climbing out of the predawn twilight, joining Venus in the eastern sky and passing only two degrees from it on the morning of January 22. Then, it continues upward and away from the Sun, matching the slow drift of the stars, rising about four minutes earlier from one morning to the next and staying within Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer all season.

The waning crescent Moon passes close by on the mornings of January 3 and 30, February 27, and March 26 and 27.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

In conjunction with the Sun on January 1, Saturn slowly starts creeping out of the glow of dawn and becomes visible about an hour before sunrise at the end of the month, against the stars of Sagittarius the Archer. Rising four minutes earlier on successive mornings, it continues climbing away from the Sun's glow, passing about a degree from Venus on the morning of February 18. By the end of March, it's 23 degrees high in the southeast an hour before dawn.

The waning crescent Moon passes near Saturn on the mornings of February 2 and March 1 and 29. Its close pass on January 5 is too close to the Sun to be seen.


Sunrise & Sunset Table

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

January 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:25 am | 12:13 pm | 5:02 pm 
All times PST

February 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:14 am | 12:23 pm | 5:33 pm
All times PST

March 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:41 am | 12:22 pm | 6:03 pm
All times PST