The Planets for November 2015
The innermost planet remains too close to the Sun this month
for safe observation. It moves from the morning sky to the
evening sky on the 18th and while doing so is actually
occulted by the Sun at this superior conjunction. The next
event of this type does not happen again until May 2020.
The "Morning Star" rises around two hours
before the Sun for most of November, moving from Leo into
Virgo on the 3rd where it spends the rest of the month. The
planet Mars passes less than a degree from Venus on the 3rd
and the waning crescent Moon sits less than 2 degrees to the
east of Venus on the 8th of the month.
The red planet rises two hours before the Sun at the start of
November but by the end of the month will rise three hours
before the Sun. It makes its closest approach to Venus on the
3rd of the month and on the 9th passes less than one degree to
the north of the star beta Virginis (Zavijava). This is a
yellow sun which is 33 light years away. The waning crescent
Moon is to the west of Mars on the 7th and to the east of Mars
on the 8th of the month. By the last day of November Mars will
have moved to within two degrees of another of Virgo's
brighter stars, Porrima (gamma Virginis) which was named after
the Roman goddess of prophecy. It is a magnitude 2.8 double
star consisting of two yellow-white suns each of magnitude 3.6
and orbiting a common centre of gravity every 172 years. They
are at a distance of 36 light years.
Along with Venus and Mars, Jupiter also inhabits the eastern
morning sky. It rises 2 hours earlier than the Sun on the 1st
of the month but well over three hours before the Sun by
month's end will cross the eastern horizon over three hours
earlier than the Sun. The waning crescent Moon is in the
vicinity of Jupiter on the 6th and 7th of November.
Only visible low in the western twilight early in November as
it heads toward conjunction with the Sun on the last day of
the month. It moves into the eastern morning sky next month.
On the 13th the waxing crescent Moon will be four degrees from
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The Planets for December 2015
Returning to the western evening sky this month, Mercury
reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 29th of
the month. It will be hard to spot until the middle of the
month when it will be setting a little over one hour later
than the Sun and by the end of December almost 90 minutes
after the Sun. Mercury starts the month in the constellation
Serpens, a constellation split into two halves, one either
side of Ophiuchus: Serpens Caput, the head, and the smaller
half, Serpens Cauda, the tail. On the 8th it moves into
Sagittarius where it spends the rest of the month.
Rising two hours before the Sun in December, the
"Morning Star" is easy to identify just four degrees
to the north of Virgo's brightest star, Spica which it
outshines by an order of three magnitudes. Venus moves from
Virgo into Libra on the 12th, passing between alpha and beta
Librae on the 19th of the month. The thin waning crescent Moon
will be two degrees from Venus on the 8th.
The earth is at Solstice on
the 22nd when the Sun is at its most southerly position with a
declination of -23.5 degrees.
The red planet is also in the constellation of Virgo this
month. It rises a little earlier each day as the month
progresses until by the end of the month it crosses the
eastern horizon four hours before the Sun. It begins the month
a little more than a degree from Porrima, gamma Virginis but
quickly moves away in its eastward journey against the
background stars. The waning crescent Moon will be 3 degrees
to the north west of Mars on the 6th.
giant planet, Jupiter rises two hours before midnight early in
December but by the end of the month will rise just a few
minutes after midnight. It spends the entire month in Leo
close to the border of Virgo where in is joined by the Moon on
the 4th and 5th of the month.
again moving into the morning sky, and will be hard to spot
until toward the end of the month when it will rise two hours
before the Sun among the stars of Ophiuchus.
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The Planets for January 2016
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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