Mars and the Planetary Gang in the Early Morning Sky

Wake up early and view our planetary neighbors in all their glory. Starting this weekend you’ll be able to find Mars and four other planets from our Solar System visible in the early morning sky. In addition to the Red Planet,  this planetary alignment includes Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. Some of the planets will continue be visible for over two or three weeks, but the best time to see all five is from  Saturday, January 23 through the first week of February.

Below is a guide to help direct you to the right spot. Just before dawn (about 45 minutes before) while the sky is is still dark will be the best time to look.

 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Most of the  planets are bright compared to stars in the sky so you should be able to glimpse them without the need of a telescope or binoculars, though you’ll likely need binoculars to spot tiny Mercury. If you’re having trouble identifying the planets from the backgrounds stars in the patch of sky, this (below) might help.

Mars should stand out as it will have a reddish tint thanks to all the iron oxide dust (or maybe better to say rusty dust) that covers it surface and swirls in its atmosphere. The bright star Spica will be in the middle between Jupiter and Mars, but  our own Moon will also join this cosmic display, so if you’re having a hard time finding the planets, then try on the morning around February 1st. That’s when our  Moon will be visible near Mars.

You can find more details on how to spot this early morning show here and here.   If you do spot Mars, take a moment to think about the fact that you’re viewing a world that you can help better understand how the atmosphere/climate of this distant world works. You can explore Mars and help map seasonal fans on the South Pole of Mars with the Zooniverse’s Planet Four project ( http://www.planetfour.org), and if you do get a glimpse of Mars, post your photos in the comments section and we’ll post them here in a future blog post.

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