See the Moon’s dawn encounters with Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, 7–11 February

By Ade Ashford

Set your alarm for 6am GMT if you wish to see three naked-eye planets in the UK dawn sky this week. Find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to south and let the waning Moon be your guide to Jupiter on the mornings of 7 & 8 February, Mars on 9 February and Saturn on 11 February. This looping animation shows a view from the heart of the British Isles centred on the south-southeast almost three spans of an outstretched hand at arm’s length wide. Each frame represents successive sidereal days (i.e., 6:04am on the 7th, 6am on the 8th, 5:56am on the 9th, etc.), so the stars remain fixed and reveal the motion of the Moon and planets. Note that the Moon’s apparent size has been enlarged for clarity. AN animation by Ade Ashford.
It pays to be an early riser in Western Europe if you wish to see the current planetary parade of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. To get the best views you need to have an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to south about 6am GMT in the British Isles (around 1¾ hours before sunrise elsewhere in Western Europe).

If you need help identifying the planets, the waning Moon acts as a convenient celestial guide on successive mornings. At 6am GMT on Wednesday, 7 February the almost last quarter Moon lies slightly less than the span of a fist at arm’s length to the upper right of magnitude -2 Jupiter. The following morning at the same time finds the 22-day-old lunar crescent 5½ degrees to Jupiter’s upper left, the pair framed nicely in the field of view of 7 and 8x binoculars.

On the morning of Friday, 9 February it’s the turn of magnitude +1.1 Mars to get close to the 23-day-old waning Moon. Around 6am GMT you’ll find the pair just 3½ degrees apart, so users of 7, 8 and 10x binoculars will get a great view of the Red Planet and 35 percent lunar crescent in the same field.

Observers in the UK and Western Europe with low magnification binoculars should compare Mars and first-magnitude star Antares in Scorpius just 5½ degrees below the planet; the duo are almost the same brightness on the morning of 9 February. Do the star and planet look the same colour to you? They should, because the name Antares comes from the Ancient Greek for “Rival of Mars”!

The keen-eyed among you with particularly clear UK skies this week may have already glimpsed a first-magnitude ‘star’ very low in the southeast around 6am GMT, but the 25-day-old Moon of Sunday, 11 February will make it easier to track down Saturn. This is the morning that the ringed planet lies 4 degrees to the lower left of the slim lunar crescent, easily seen in the same field of view of low-power binoculars of the 7 or 8x variety.