What the Planets are doing this month


JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec


January 2016

   Mercury. The only naked eye planet in the western evening sky, Mercury only remains so until the 14th after which it joins the other bright planets in the morning twilight. On the 1st it sits less than a degree to the north of 8.6 magnitude globular cluster M75 though the cluster will be a real challenge low in the western evening twilight. Mercury will be better observed at the end of the month when it is in the early morning sky among the stars of Sagittarius.

Venus. New Years Day finds this brilliant planet perched precariously near beta Scorpii, Graffias, a star that marks one of the scorpion's claws. It slips past and just a degree from this star on the 2nd, crossing into Ophiuchus on the 7th where it is joined by the waning crescent Moon. Saturn is only a couple of degrees away on this date also. Over the next two mornings Venus moves ever closer to Saturn and on the 9th the pair will be less than half a degree apart. Venus moves into Sagittarius on the 22nd and finishing the month one and a half degrees to the north of fifth magnitude globular cluster, M22 on the 31st of January.

  Earth.

   Mars. Now rising over four hours before the Sun, Mars starts the month in Virgo, five degrees to the east of Virgo's brightest star Spica. The contrasting colours are worth noting between this pair, Mars with its distinct orange glow and Spica's blue-white tinge and a little brighter of the two. Mars crosses into Libra on the 18th, finishing the month a degree and a half from alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi). On ancient star charts this star marked the southern claw of the scorpion. The waning crescent Moon is two degrees to the north of Mars on the 4th of the month.

  Jupiter. The giant planet rises around midnight at the beginning of the month but will be rising two hours earlier by the end of January. Still in Leo and close to the border of Virgo, Jupiter begins four months of retrograde motion on the 9th when it will appear to move from east to west among the background stars. The Moon will be less than one degree to the south of Jupiter on the 1st and also close by again on the 28th.

  Saturn. As the New Year begins, Saturn rises in the dawn sky two hours before the Sun in the constellation Ophiuchus. It gradually rises earlier with each passing day until by the end of the month it will rise almost four hours before the Sun. On the 9th the ringed planet and Venus will be less than half a degree apart when the contrasting colours of the pair should be obvious, Saturn having a slight yellowish hue against the brilliance of Venus. The waning crescent Moon will be in close proximity to the two planets on the 7th of the month.

Moon Phase for January 2016:

2nd   10th   17th   24th

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February 2016  

   Mercury. For the first half of February Mercury will be rising a full two hours before the Sun and in a great position in the morning sky for observation for early risers. It begins the month in Sagittarius, crossing into Capricornus on the 15th where it spends the rest of the month. The waning crescent Moon will be five degrees to the east of Mercury on the 7th and the brightest planet Venus is just four degrees to Mercury's west on the 13th of the month.

Venus. The brightest of the planets begins the month in Sagittarius, crossing into Capricornus on the 18th where it joins Mercury and remains for the rest of February. The thin crescent of a waning Moon is situated six degrees to the west of Venus on the 6th and for those adventurous souls with larger telescopes, 14.24 magnitude Pluto will be less than six arcminutes north of third magnitude Pi Sagittarii in the 13th of the month.

  Earth.

   Mars. The red planet rises just after midnight in the constellation of Libra at the beginning of February, less than two degree from Libra's second brightest star, Zubenelgenubi (alpha Librae). This star lies at a distance of 72 light years and is a wide double star consisting of a blue-white star of magnitude 2.8 and a white companion of magnitude 5.2. The ancient Greeks knew the constellation of Libra as "The Claws of the Scorpion", an extension of neighboring Scorpius but the Romans made it into a separate constellation around the time of Julius Caesar. Since then the scales of Libra have come to be regarded as the symbol of justice, held aloft by the goddess of Justice, Astraea. A first quarter Moon and Mars are 5 degrees apart on the 2nd of the month.

  Jupiter. Retrograding in the constellation Leo, Jupiter rises in the eastern evening sky around 10:00pm at the beginning of February. By the end of the month it will rise a full two hours earlier putting it in an ideal position for observation in the early evening sky. On the 29th Jupiter lies one Moon width from Sigma Leonis, a blue subgiant star marking one of the lion's rear paws. At 220 light years away it shines at an apparent magnitude of 4.05. The waning gibbous Moon will be six degrees either side of the planet on the 24th and 25th of February.

  Saturn. Presiding over Ophiuchus, the thirteenth zodiacal constellation, Saturn moves only slightly against the background stars this month. It is easily identified by its distinctive yellowish hue and is in stark contrast to Antares' obvious orange colour. The ringed planet rises around midnight mid-month and on the 4th of the month sits four degrees to the south of a waning gibbous Moon.

Moon Phase for January 2016:

1st   9th   15th   23rd

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March 2016

   Mercury. Venus. This pair can be located in the early morning twilight at the beginning of March with Venus rising two hours before the Sun and Mercury thirty minutes later. They both start the month in Capricornus with Mercury crossing into Aquarius on the 4th and Venus following on the 11th of the month. Venus, magnitude -3.92, is by far the brighter of the two and easy to spot while Mercury at Magnitude 0.31 is a little harder but its orange colour is a pointer to its identity. Mercury is in conjunction with the Sun on March 24th and will be visible in the western evening twilight during the latter part of April. Venus on the other hand remains visible in the early morning sky for the rest of March and will be joined by a waning crescent Moon on the 7th which will be four degrees to the north of Mercury the next morning.

  Earth.

   Mars. Rising well before midnight in the constellation of Libra at the beginning of March, Mars moves into Scorpius on the 14th where it spends the rest of the month. It sits a little more than six degrees from its rival, the star Antares on the last day of the month and the similarity in colour of the two bodies is worth noting. The Moon pays Mars a visit on the 1st and 29th this month.

  Jupiter. Retrograding in the constellation Leo-The Lion during the month of March, Jupiter begins the month less than half a degree from sigma Leonis, a 4.1 magnitude star marking one of the lion's back paws. Its motion backwards against the fixed stars takes it to within a degree of magnitude 4.7 chi Leonis by the end of the month. The almost full Moon will be close to Jupiter on the 21st and 22nd of March.

  Saturn. The ringed planet rises just after midnight in the thirteenth zodiacal constellation, Ophiuchus at the start of the month where it can be found for the entire month. Because of its thirty year orbit around the Sun it appears to move very little each month against the background stars. It rises a little earlier as the month progresses until at the end of the month will rise around 10pm. The waning crescent Moon will be just to the north of Saturn on the 3rd and the 30th of the month.

Moon Phase for March 2016:

2nd   9th   16th   23rd

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April 2016

   Mercury. Making a return to the evening twilight sky this month, Mercury will be hard to spot for the entire month. It reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 18th but because of the very sharp angle of the ecliptic to the horizon it will be hard to spot in the twilight sky, setting less than one hour later than the sun. On the 9th the two day old crescent Moon will be ten degrees to the east of Mercury and much easier to observe than the planet. On the same evening the 8.4 magnitude asteroid 4 Vesta will be 1.5 degrees to the east of the Moon.

Venus. The "Morning Star" rises 1.5 hours before the Sun at the beginning of April and best observed early in the month as by the end of the month rises only 45 minutes earlier than the Sun. The waning crescent Moon is five degrees to the west of Venus on the 6th of the month.


  Earth.

   Mars.   Saturn. The separation between these two planets does not alter greatly for the entire month of April remaining no more than nine degrees apart for the entire month. Mars begins the month in Scorpius, moving into Ophiuchus where it joins Saturn on the 3rd of the month, returning to Scorpius on the last day of the month. The very subtle yellow tint of Saturn should help to identify it whereas there is no mistaking the ruddy glow of Mars. Don't confuse Mars with the Scorpion's brightest star Antares which on the 26th is separated by less than five degrees from the red planet, Mars being the brightest of the pair. Antares gets its ancient Greek name because of its similarity in colour to Mars the name meaning "rival of Mars". Mars rises at 9:50pm A.E.S.T at the beginning of the month, rising four minutes earlier each day as the month progresses until by the end of the month it will rise at 7:50pm A.E.S.T. The waning gibbous Moon will be in the vicinity of the pair on the 24th and 25th.

  Jupiter. The giant planet will be high in the eastern sky after the Sun has set at the beginning of April and continues on its retrograde motion against the background stars in the constellation, Leo. On the 18th the waxing gibbous Moon will be just three degrees from the planet. It's a great exercise to watch the changing positions of the Galilean moons over a few nights and on the 12th and 13th a seventh magnitude star will be posing as a fifth moon.

Moon Phase for April 2016:

1st   7th   14th   22nd  30th

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May 2016

   Mercury. Hidden in the glare of the western twilight at the beginning of May, Mercury is on its way to transit the face of the Sun on the 10th of the month. However this transit will not be visible from Australia; the next transit visible in this country will be in 2032. Mercury enters the morning sky after the 10th but best observed toward the end of May when it will be rising almost two hours before the Sun among the faint stars of Aries.

Venus. Too close to the Sun for safe observation this month.

  Earth.

   Mars. Still retrograding in Scorpius this month, Mars begins the month five degrees from its rival the red giant star, Antares and will be a full magnitude brighter than the star. The red planet is at opposition with the Sun on the 22nd when it will cross the meridian at midnight and makes its closest approach to the Earth on the last day of the month. The near full Moon will be close to Mars on the 21st a 22nd of the month.

  Jupiter. Crossing the meridian around 8:30pm at the beginning of the month, Jupiter is easy spot among the stars of Leo. Make the most of the first half of the month as by the end of the month the giant planet will be setting just after midnight. The waxing crescent Moon and Jupiter will be just over one degree apart on the 15th of the month.

  Saturn. The ringed planet is also in an ideal position for observation this month lurking among the stars of Ophiuchus-The Serpent Bearer. High in the eastern sky after the Sun has set its magnificent system of rings are a sight not to be missed in any moderate to larger telescope. The Moon pays Saturn a Visit on the 22nd and 23rd of the month.

Moon Phase for May 2016:

7th   14th   22nd   29th

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June 2016

   This is an excellent month for the early risers to observe the elusive Mercury as for the first half of the month it will be rising two hours earlier than the Sun. It reaches its greatest elongation west of the Sun on the 5th after which it starts its journey back toward the Sun. On the 19th it will be less than a degree from epsilon Tauri, the star marking the northern eye of the bull. This star is an orange giant of magnitude 3.5 which lies at a distance of 147 light years and in 2007 the first star in an open cluster around which a planet was discovered. The brighter eye of the bull is marked by Aldebaran, a 0.9 magnitude red giant at the closer distance of 68 light years that is not a true member of the Hyades cluster but an unrelated foreground star. The waning crescent Moon will rise thirty minutes before Mercury on the third of the month.

Lost in the glare of the Sun this month and in conjunction with the Sun on the 7th of the month. On this date Venus will be occulted by the Sun for 46 hours after which it moves into the evening twilight.

   Still in a great position for observation this month and even a 100mm instrument will at times reveal its south polar cap. Mars will appear stationary at the end of the month after retrograding against the background stars since April spending a few days from the 26th within half a degree of magnitude 8.6 globular cluster NGC 5897. It begins its eastward march early next month taking it once more in the direction of Scorpius. The Moon passes seven degrees to the north of Mars on the 17th of the month.

  The giant planet sits high in the northern sky after the Sun has set early in June. It passes within 20 arcminutes of Magnitude 4.7 chi Leonis on the 9th of May and is visited by the Moon on the 11th and 12th of the month. It will be best viewed early in the month as by the end of the month it will be setting at 10:30pm.

  The real star of the show, Saturn is always a breathtaking sight when seen through even the smallest of telescopes. It reaches opposition on the 3rd and so is visible all night long among the stars of Ophiuchus. It is less than seven degrees to the north of Scorpio's brightest star, Antares and the colour contrast between the two should be quite obvious. The Moon is in the vicinity on the 18th and 19th of June.

Moon Phase for June 2016:

5th   12th   20th   28th

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July 2016

    At superior conjunction with the Sun on the 7th of the month, Mercury will be difficult to spot until very late in the month. On the 17th the inner planet sits just half a degree to the north of the much brighter Venus but the pair will be setting only 45 minutes later than the Sun and very low in the western twilight. Mercury sets progressively later than the Sun each day until by the end of the month it will set ninety minutes later than the Sun. On the 30th and the 31st it will be within one degree of Leo's brightest star, Regulus, a magnitude 1.4 blue-white star 85 light years away. It has a wide companion of magnitude 7.6 which is visible in binoculars or small telescopes.

  On its way to taking its place in the western evening sky as the "Evening Star", Venus moves from Cancer into Leo on the 27th of the month. By the end of July it will be setting an hour later than the Sun and at magnitude -3.9 easy to recognize in the evening twilight.

   High in the north eastern sky after sunset at the beginning of the month, Mars is still in a great position for observation this month. It spends the month in Libra, being on the 1st within half a degree of magnitude 8.6 globular cluster NGC 5897. This is a large but loosely scattered globular which is 45,000 light years away. A moderately sized telescope will show markings on the surface of Mars including the South Polar Cap. A waxing gibbous Moon joins Mars in Libra on the 14th and 15th of the month.

  High in the north-western sky after sunset the giant planet moves eastward against the background stars of the constellation Leo-The Lion this month. Jupiter will be visited by the waxing crescent Moon on the 9th and planet passes within half a degree of Sigma Leonis on the 13th and 14th of the month.

  This is an ideal time to be observing the ringed planet as it crosses the meridian around 9:00pm mid July. On the 16th the waxing gibbous Moon joins Saturn in Ophiuchus making a pleasant scene with Mars 16 degrees to the west of Saturn and Antares, Scorpio's brightest star, just 6 degrees to the south of Saturn. Probably worth a photograph.

Moon Phase for July 2016:

4th   12th   20th   27th

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August 2016

   Mercury. Venus.  Jupiter. These three planets will be moving ever closer together as August progresses and can all be found in the western evening sky after the Sun has set. Venus is the lowest in the western twilight at the beginning of the month and will set a little over one hour after the Sun, Mercury forty minutes later and Jupiter a little over three hours later than the Sun. The thin crescent of a waxing Moon lies two degrees to the north of Venus on the 4th, the bright star 1.5 degrees to the east of Venus being Leo's brightest star, Regulus. The Moon joins Mercury on the 5th and on the 6th sits 1.5 to the east of Jupiter. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 17th when it will be eight degrees to the east of Venus and four degrees to the west of Jupiter. On the 27th and 28th of the month Venus and Jupiter will be less than half a degree apart with Mercury five degrees to the south of the pair. Venus can be visible during daylight hours so the 27th and 28th would be a good opportunity to view Jupiter and Venus in daylight telescopically. Make sure that you stand with a building, tree or other object blocking the Sun when you attempt to observe the planets. This makes it easier to pick out Venus in the bright sky and prevents the telescope accidentally lining up with the Sun causingserious eye damage.

  Earth.

   Mars.   Saturn. These two planets are also close companions this month and can be found less than ten degrees apart high in the northern sky after the sun has set on the 1st of August. Mars, now on its eastward journey against the background stars, crosses from Libra into Scorpius on the 3rd in readiness for its conjunction with its rival, Antares on the 24th. It is worth noting the similarity in the colour of these two bodies which is quite noticeable when they are so close together. Saturn, in the constellation Ophiuchus, lies less than 5 degrees to the north of Mars on the 24th and 25th. The waxing gibbous Moon joins the pair on the 12th.

Moon Phase for August 2016:

3rd   11th   18th   25th

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September 2016

   Mercury. The inner planet begins the month in the western evening sky setting over one hour later than the Sun for the first few days of September. However this appearance is short lives as it swiftly moves back toward the Sun and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. After conjunction it moves into the eastern morning twilight where on the 29th reaching its greatest elongation west of the Sun. This will not be a very good time to view the planet because at its best will rise only forty minutes earlier than the Sun and be hidden in the early morning twilight. A waning crescent Moon rises twenty minutes before Mercury on the 29th of the month.

Venus. The "Evening Star" sets almost two hours later than the Sun on the 1st of September and is the brightest object in that part of the sky until joined by the waxing crescent Moon on the 3rd. The Planets Jupiter and Mercury sit just west of and in close proximity to Venus for the first few days of the month but Venus swiftly moves away from this pair. On the 18th and 19th Venus passes three degrees to the north of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. This star is a magnitude 1.0 blue-white sun 260 light years away and is an eclipsing binary varying by about 0.1 of a magnitude every four days. Venus moves from Virgo into Libra on the last day of the month.

  Earth.

   Mars. The red planet spends the first two days of the month in Scorpius, five degrees to the east of its rival Antares, before joining Saturn in Ophiuchus on the 3rd. Its ruddy glow is very apparent high in the northern sky after the Sun has set. Mars moves eastward against the background stars of Ophiuchus, passing the 7.2 magnitude globular cluster M19 on the 6th and 7th before crossing into Sagittarius on the 22nd of the month. On the last day of the month Mars passes within a few arc minutes of Magnitude 8.3 globular cluster NGC 6553. On the 9th the Moon passes 8 degrees to the north of Mars.

  Jupiter. Only visible in the western twilight sky for the first few days of the month and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 26th, appearing in the early morning twilight at the end of October. The two day old waxing crescent Moon sits between Jupiter and Venus on the 3rd of the month.

  Saturn. Still among the stars of Ophiuchus and high in the north-western sky after the Sun has set at the start of September. Six degrees to the south of Saturn is the bright red giant Antares, the star marking the heart of the scorpion and the sixteenth brightest star in the sky. It is a semi-regular variable, fluctuating between magnitudes 0.9-1.1 or fainter approximately every five years. Antares is 330 light years away. Originally, in ancient Greek times and earlier, Scorpius was a much larger constellation, but the stars that once made up its claws have now been used to form the separate constellation of Libra. The Sun passes briefly through Scorpius during the last week of November. The Moon sits below and to the north of Saturn on the 8th and 9th of the month.

Moon Phase for September 2016:

1st   9th   17th   23rd

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October 2016

   Mercury. Hidden in the glare of the early morning twilight this month, Mercury is best left until November when it returns to the western evening sky. At its best at the beginning of this month it rises only forty minutes before the Sun and is in conjunction with the Sun on the 28th.

Venus. The "Evening Star" begins October high in the western evening sky setting two and a half hours later than the Sun. It begins the month in Libra, where on the 6th it passes less than a degree to the south of alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi), the star that in ancient times marked the southern claw of Scorpius. Venus moves into Scorpius on the 18th where by the end of October it will be setting a full three hours later than the Sun. On the 20th and 21st it passes less than a degree to the north of magnitude 2.3 delta Scorpii, the star marking the head of the great scorpion and for the last three days of the month will be just to the south of Saturn.

  Earth.

   Mars. On the first day of October Mars is within half a degree of the magnitude 8.3 globular cluster NGC 6553 after which it moves eastward to another globular the magnitude 6.9 M 28 on the 6th. The next day finds the red planet less than half a degree to the south of magnitude 2.8 lambda Sagittarii (Kaus Borealis), an orange giant sun 98 light years away. It spends the rest of the month crossing the beautiful star fields of Sagittarius. The waxing Moon will be seven degrees to the north of Mars on the 8th of the month.

  Jupiter. Too close to the Sun until late in the month when it will be rising one hour before the Sun.

  Saturn. Conspicuous among the star fields of Ophiuchus and readily identified by its subtle yellow hue, Saturn continues its painfully slow easterly migration against the background stars only covering slightly more than two degrees for the whole month. It will be setting by 9:30 by the end of the month and on the 29th Saturn and Venus will set only five minutes apart. Make the most of this month as toward the end of next month Saturn will be getting to close to the Sun to be safely observed. The waxing crescent Moon passes four degrees to the north of Saturn on the 6th of October.

Moon Phase for October 2016:

1st  9th   16th   23rd  31st

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November 2016

   Mercury. The inner planet returns to the western evening sky this month but better observed late in the month when it has had the chance to move further east of the Sun. It will move from Scorpius into Ophiuchus on the 17th where on the 22nd it will pass less than four degrees to the south of the much brighter Saturn. The Moon, only one and a half days old will be a challenge to spot below and eight degrees to the north of Mercury.

Venus. High in the western evening sky and setting three hours later than the Sun, Venus outshines all comers except the three day old waxing Moon which it encounters to its north on the 2nd of the month. The "Evening Star" moves from Ophiuchus to Sagittarius on the 9th making a very close call on globular cluster NGC 6553 on the 13th before on the 16th sitting within a degree of globular cluster M 28 and the star that marks the lid of the teapot asterism, magnitude 2.8 lambda Sagittarii (Kaus Borealis). Two days later on the 18th the naked eye globular cluster magnitude 5.1 M22 receives a visit and is only three Moon widths to the north of Venus. The Sun passes through Sagittarius from mid-December to mid January.

  Earth.

   Mars. High in the north western sky after sunset, Mars spends the first seven days of the month in Sagittarius before crossing into Capricornus on the 8th where it spends the rest of the month. On the 7th magnitude 8.6 globular cluster M75 will be within half a degree of the planet. The waxing crescent Moon will be north of Mars on the 5th and 6th of November.

  Jupiter. Now visible in the early morning twilight and rising one hour earlier than the Sun as November begins, Jupiter will get easier to observe as the month progresses. By the end of the month it will rise two and a half hours earlier than the Sun, spending the entire month in Virgo where it is joined by a waning crescent Moon on the 24th and 25th.

  Saturn. The first half of November will be the last chance to get a descent look at Saturn as it sets ever closer to the Sun as the month slips by. The 1st of the month finds it low in the western evening twilight four degrees to the west of brilliant Venus and setting twenty five minutes earlier than Venus. On the 2nd the three-day-old waxing crescent Moon joins the two planets and should be well worth taking the time to observe. By the end of the month however Saturn will be too low in the western twilight for safe observation and setting thirty minutes later than the Sun.

Moon Phase for November 2016:

8th   14th   21st   29th

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December 2016

   Mercury.

Venus.

  Earth.

   Mars.

  Jupiter.

  Saturn.

Moon Phase for December 2016:

6th   14th   21st   29th

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