Spectacle at Dawn

June 6, 2016
Crescent Moon at Dawn

Can I convince you to wake up just before dawn?  What if I tell you it’s the greatest planetary spectacle of the year?  And you get two chances—this Saturday morning and Sunday morning, October 10 and 11.

What’s there depends on whether you have a clear unobstructed view to the east.  Some do, like many in Kansas or Florida. If you have such a gorgeous view toward sunrise then you really shouldn’t miss this. Even if you don’t, it’s well worth a look. 

Saturday Planet Alignment

Face east Saturday morning, 45 minutes before sunrise. That’s around 6:30 AM for many folks, but not everyone, due to varying time zone positions. 

  • There’s the thin waning crescent Moon. 
  • Just above the Moon floats a bright star, Jupiter. 
  • Closely above Jupiter is a dim orange star, Mars. 
  • Thanks to the hit movie, Mars is in the spotlight right now. 
  • Then above Mars, highest up of all and also brightest, stands the glorious Morning Star, Venus. 
  • They’re all lined up.  What a sight.

 If you have that clear view east, look below the Moon and the only “star” down there is Mercury.

Sunday Planet Alignment

On Sunday morning, the Moon is lower at that same time, about 45 minutes before sun-up.  You won’t even see the Moon unless your eastern horizon is unobstructed.  But if its clear in that directio . .  

  • A single bright star hovers just to the left of that hair-thin crescent Moon—Mercury.  They’re almost touching!
  • High above them, still in a row, is Jupiter—then Mars—and then Venus highest.

Both mornings thus offer a dramatic alignment of every single naked eye solar system object except for Saturn.  You don’t need a telescope.

Saturn and the Sun

Actually, though Saturn is in the evening sky, it’s only a couple of constellations over.  All the planets are therefore aligned in a single direction in space.  The whole solar system is lopsided right now, like an out of balance washing machine.  When especially Jupiter and Saturn are more or less in the same direction, they influence the Sun’s position, yanking it from its average location by one full Sun width.  So though it’s not obvious, the Sun is not quite in its normal spot in the sky.

All this parades in front of us.  Sure, it’s the weekend, and who wants to get up early?  But if it’s forecast to be clear Saturday or Sunday morning, but I’m sure going to set the alarm.

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s hub for everything stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe