Thu, 14 Sep 2017
Watch the planets dance in the morning sky
Regulus (top), Mercury and Mars (faint, at centre) photographed by Paul Sutherland from Walmer, Kent, on 1 September. Click to enlarge.
The planets Mercury, Venus and Mars are putting on a fascinating display in the eastern morning sky at the moment. You'll need to be up at about 6 am to see it, but for the early risers they will shift positions each day, presenting an ever-changing view. And from the 18th the thin crescent Moon joins in the dance, making a tempting photo-opportunity.
Look towards the eastern horizon, quite low down. You won't need a sea horizon as in the view at top, but it will help! The diagram below will help you to identify which object is is which. The star Regulus is also in there. Each day Regulus gets a bit higher in the sky, while Mars rises higher and Mercury and Venus sink a little lower. These two are comparatively close to us, and are also closer to the Sun than Earth, while Mars is very distant, on the far side of the Sun.
Our graphic only goes as far as the 19th (click to see an enlarged view including this date), but on the 20th Venus will be close to Regulus, though a lot brighter. Mercury disappears out of view in the third week of September. Then on 6 October Mars and Venus will be close together, but after that Venus also sinks out of sight behind the Sun's glare, to reappear in the morning sky, to reappear in the evening sky next spring.
Movements of the planets in the morning eastern sky about 6 am BST as seen from the UK. Click for a larger version, which also includes a view for 19 September
Added by: Robin Scagell