Saturday Morning: Moon, Venus, and Mercury

Two planets and a pretty crescent Moon gather low above the southeastern horizon before dawn on February 6th.

Mercury, Venus, and Moon on Feb. 6th 2016 JKB_m

The trio of a thin, earthshine-lit crescent Moon, Mercury directly below it, and bright Venus made for a pretty predawn sky on February 6, 2016.
J. Kelly Beatty

Update:  After a nasty snowstorm that dumped 9 inches of wet, heavy "concrete" all over the Boston area, this morning dawned cold (11°F) and very clear.

So my wife and I got up early and trudged to a nearby state park, where we were rewarded with a stunning view of the Moon, Venus, and Mercury clustered together low in the southeast. As I'd hoped, the dark portion of the Moon glowed softly with earthshine. All in all, a visual treat!

The image here was recorded with a Nikon D3100 DSLR at ISO 400, a zoom lens set at 115 mm focal length, and a 23-second exposure.

Don't sleep in tomorrow morning. Sure, it's Saturday, but it'll be worth getting up early to see dazzling Venus, elusive Mercury, and a razor-thin crescent Moon clustered together low in the southeast.

You'll need to be outside and ready about 45 minutes before sunrise, roughly 6 a.m. (depending on your location). Find a spot with a clear, unobstructed view toward southeast. Bring binoculars if you have them.

Your reward will be a view of Venus, Mercury, and a thin crescent Moon clustered within about 5° of one another — they should all fit within the field of view of low-power binoculars.

Predawn planetary geometry on February 6th

A closer look at the clustered thin Moon, Venus, and Mercury on February 6th before dawn.
Stellarium

Mercury might be challenging to spot, because it appears only 1% as bright as Venus does. But use the brighter planet as your guide: look toward its lower left, at roughly the 8 o'clock position, by about the width of your three middle fingers held together at arm's length.

The  extremely thin waning lunar crescent, to the upper left of both planets, will be especially pretty. It'll be just 48 hours from new Moon. Be alert for the faint glow of earthshine on the dark portion of its disk.

The Moon is ending its week-long "bombing" of the ongoing five-planet parade. You'll have at least another week to enjoy the show, which will end its satisfying run (to rave reviews) once Mercury slips too deeply in the predawn twilight and exits Stage Southeast.


The coming year offers lots of other celestial sights, and there's no better guide to enjoying them than SkyWatch 2016. Its constellation maps and observing guides perfect for novice stargazers and anyone who's ever been amazed by the beauty of the night sky.

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