February 1 morning sky
Morning sky on February 1.

Enjoy Five-Planet Mornings

The morning sky is a planet observer’s paradise.

Set your alarm for about 6:45 a.m., local time — roughly an hour ahead of sunrise — and here’s what will greet you. High in the west-southwest is Jupiter. The big planet shines at magnitude –2.3, but is starting to lose altitude. It’s best seen between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. when it’s near the meridian and at its highest. Due south is Mars. It’s bright, but at magnitude 0.9, much fainter than Jupiter.

South, 1 hr before sunrise
The view facing south one hour before sunrise on the morning of January 28.

In the south-southeast is Saturn, not far from the bright star Antares. The 0.5-magnitude ringed planet is about 20-degrees above the horizon and high enough for good telescopic views if the seeing conditions are reasonably steady.

Facing east-southeast you’ll see the two inner planets, Venus and Mercury. Venus is an obvious, magnitude –4.0 beacon, while Mercury is a tougher find. The speedy planet is only half as high as Venus and shines a much, much fainter magnitude 0.3. You’ll probably need binoculars to fish Mercury out of the horizon haze.

SSE, Feb4
The view facing south-southeast one hour before sunrise on February 4.

The morning planet parade continues until mid-February, when Mercury eventually loses its battle to stay ahead of encroaching morning twilight. The innermost planet plunges sunward on its way toward its April evening apparition.

Enjoy the show while you can. The chance to to see all five naked-eye planets at once is a treat and worth getting up early to witness.