Thursday, December 16, 2010

Planet Viewing

Mercury symbolMercury
The solar system's smallest planet flits back and forth from morning sky to evening sky several times a year. It never strays far from the Sun in our sky, so it's tough to find in the glare. From the northern hemisphere, it is visible in the morning sky this year in March and April, July, and early November. The late-year appearance is the best, because the planet will stand highest above the horizon. In the evening, Mercury is best seen in January, May, late August through September, and mid-December. The May appearance is best.
Venus symbolVenus
Venus, the dazzling morning or evening star, outshines all the other stars and planets in the night sky. It begins the year in the morning sky, low in the east shortly before sunrise. It will disappear from view in early May. In mid-July Venus will reappear in the evening sky, where it stay for the rest of the year.
Mars symbolMars
Mars begins the year as a brilliant orange star high in the east at sunset. As the year progresses, it will grow fainter, shining only about five percent as bright in late summer as in January. It will disappear in the Sun's glare by around mid-October.
Jupiter symbolJupiter
The largest planet in our solar system is a commanding presence in the night sky for much of the year. It looks like an intensely bright cream-colored star, shining brighter than anything else in the night sky except the Moon and Venus. It climbs into view in the pre-dawn sky in January. It rises earlier as the months go by, and moves into the evening sky in spring. Jupiter is at opposition in early July, when it appears brightest for the year and remains visible all night. Late in the year it is visible only in the evening sky, dropping lower each night.
Saturn symbolSaturn
Saturn looks like a bright golden star. It spends the year in Leo, the lion, and for much of the year is close to Leo's "heart," the bright star Regulus. Saturn is at its best in late February, when it's closest to Earth. It disappears behind the Sun in July and August, then returns to view in the morning sky.
Uranus symbolUranus
Although it's the third-largest planet in the solar system, it's so far from the Sun that you need binoculars to see it. It spends the year in the constellation Aquarius. It stages its best appearance in September.
Uranus symbolNeptune
The fourth-largest planet in the solar system is so far away that you need a telescope to find it. Neptune is in the constellation Capricornus, and stages its best appearance in August.

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