Planet Trio Dances at Dawn

Apart from the nearly full Moon, Jupiter, the King of Planets, has the evening sky pretty much all to itself. It's easy to spot above the southern horizon as night falls.

Planet trio at dawn
Use bright Venus to help you spot fainter Mercury and Saturn before dawn in early October.
S&T illustration
But I'd like to draw your attention to some happenings in the morning sky. Hey, most of you are already getting up before dawn anyway — or you can if you really try — so poke your head out for a few minutes during your early-morning routine. If you do, you'll be rewarded by views of three planets that are giving Jupiter stiff competition for stargazers' attention.

Venus is the bright "Morning Star" low in the east near dawn. A couple months ago this planet was higher up and quite a spectacle, but now it's past its prime. Day by day this month you'll see Venus slide a little closer to the horizon in the twilight. What's really exciting, however, is its changing arrangements with sibling planets Mercury and Saturn in the days ahead.

Planet trio and Moon at dawn
A slender crescent Moon joins three planets before dawn on October 16th.
S&T illustration
Mercury is best seen in the first half of October. On the 6th it appears farthest from the Sun, and therefore its highest before sunrise. Look for it that morning several degrees to the lower left of Venus. And if you continue along that imaginary line a bit farther, you should spot dimmer Saturn.

After the 6th, Mercury sits lower during each successive dawn. But Saturn creeps higher, passing impressively close to Mercury on October 8th and then Venus on the 13th. For a finale, on October 16th our planet trio is joined by a slender crescent Moon.

The best viewing for all of this should come about 60 to 40 minutes before your local sunrise time. And when exactly is that? You can always find your sunrise and sunset times (and much else) once you put your location into our online almanac. (If you're on daylight saving time like most of North America, make sure the Daylight Saving Time box is checked.)

Looks like I'll be getting up early and often this month!

4 thoughts on “Planet Trio Dances at Dawn

  1. David Benn

    NW Leeds, UK.
    Was out at 6.30 this morning. Fantastic view of Mercury, Saturn and Venus. Used a 80mm spotting scope. Mercury a brilliant star, Venus and Saturn discernible disks. Brightening of the sky improved the view. Looking forward to the 13th. I’ll remember to check the camera battery is charged!

  2. Kathleen

    Yes to the dancing trio! It was an awesome experience sitting there watching this brilliantly lit trio rising out of the eastern sky. No binoculars or telescope really needed for this show. Next Tuesday I’ll have my camera in hand. Oh, and get your children out there to see this.

  3. Linda

    There are some advantages to living and working in the Mojave desert. I head to work due east from the mountains at 5:30 a.m. and have truly enjoyed watching the planets! Spotting first Mercury and then Saturn last week was a treat. Observing the “dance” has made the mundane commute worth the effort. Someday I shall truly miss this part of my working life. The clear, dry air of the desert really makes observing a treat for this long-time amateur astronomer!

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