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The early bird gets the planets this fall

By Amy Sayle

For you early birds, the current planet viewing situation is fabulous. Step out on the next clear morning before sunrise (you’re already up anyway, right?) to see Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury.

Image: Venus and Mars appear close together in the pre-dawn eastern sky on November 3, 2015 (Credit: Stellarium).

Granted, Mercury will be challenging to spot because it hugs the eastern horizon before sunrise. Then around Halloween, Mercury disappears into the solar glare. But those other three planets can be spotted higher in the eastern morning sky, and they’ll hang around through the fall.

To find Venus, look toward the east before dawn for a really, really bright star-like object. For Jupiter, look nearby for the next brightest “star.” Both these planets appear brighter than any star in the night sky. Reddish Mars will in the same general area of the sky, but noticeably dimmer than Venus and Jupiter.

Over this fall you can watch these three planets do a celestial dance. On November 3, 2015, for example, Venus and Mars swap positions.

Meanwhile, for those of us who prefer to view an early evening sky, the planet viewing situation is pretty pathetic this fall.

Oh sure, there’s Saturn. But to see it, you’ve got to get yourself outside at just the right time, during evening twilight, and then you need to find a view to the southwest that isn’t obstructed by buildings or trees. And you’d better look soon. By mid-November, Saturn slips into the glare of the Sun and vanishes from view.

Many of us, regardless of preference, may find that this week in particular has us getting up before sunrise. Thanks to Daylight Saving Time not ending until November 1st, in the days immediately before that time change, we experience the latest sunrises of the entire calendar year. So if you rise before the Sun does, get that coffee started and pop outside to see a planet treat.