in the night sky the five planets visible in February View all

Monday, February 27th 2012. | Science News

11Feb27_300In the Northern Hemisphere, all five visible planets can be seen sometime between sundown and late evening throughout late February 2012. (At latitudes to the south of the equator, however, Mercury may be too close to the glare of the setting sun to view.) By visible planet, we mean any planet that’s easy to see with the unaided eye and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Use the moon, Jupiter and Venus to find Mercury near the horizon.

Given an unobstructed horizon, Northern Hemisphere residents may see four of the five visible planets as soon as darkness falls. Look first for the waxing crescent moon above the dazzling planets Jupiter and Venus in your western sky. When it’s dark enough – perhaps 40 to 60 minutes after sundown – draw an imaginary line downward, using the moon, Jupiter and Venus, to locate Mercury near the western horizon. Binoculars may be helpful. Opposite of Mercury, the brilliant red planet Mars lurks low in the east.

As dusk gives way to darkness at evening, be sure to make Mercury a priority. Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, is the first planet to set, following the sun beneath the horizon around 80 minutes after sunset (at mid-northern latitudes). Venus sets somewhere around 9 to 10 p.m., whereas Jupiter stays out until about 10 to 11 p.m. Mars shines from early evening until dawn.

Mars at opposition on March 3, 2012

Rising and setting times for the planets in your sky

As Jupiter comes close to setting in the west around 10 to 11 p.m., look in the opposite direction to see Saturn rising in the east. Saturn shines rather close to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. If you’re familiar with the brilliant star Arcturus, look for Saturn and Spica to the lower right of this beacon star.

You can distinguish Saturn from Spica by color. Saturn displays a golden hue, while Spica sparkles blue-white. If you have difficulty discerning color, try using binoculars.

After they rise tonight, Mars — and Saturn and Spica — soar upward throughout the late-night hours. Mars reaches its high point in the sky around 1 a.m., whereas Saturn and Spica climb highest up around 3:30 a.m.

Related For in the night sky the five planets visible in February View all