See the waning crescent Moon meet the dawn planets, 15–16 April 2020

By Ade Ashford

At civil dawn (approximately 40 minutes before sunrise in the British Isles) on the mornings of 15 and 16 April 2020, let the old crescent Moon be your guide to three naked-eye planets – Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Both the red and the ringed planet lie in the constellation of Capricornus, while Jupiter lies in Sagittarius. This looping animation depicts the view very low to the horizon between southeast and south-southeast around 5:30am BST on the mornings in question. Note that the Moon’s apparent size is enlarged for clarity. Dabih, otherwise known as Beta Capricorni, is a third-magnitude multiple star. AN animation by Ade Ashford.

If you’re an early riser in the British Isles fortunate enough to experience clear skies at the start of civil twilight on 15 and 16 April, why not venture out at 5:30am BST to see the waning crescent Moon guide you to not just one, but three naked-eye planets — Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Typical 7×50 or 10×50 binoculars will enable you to better appreciate these attractive conjunctions, while the smallest of telescopes also reveal some of Jupiter’s bright Galilean moons.

What to look for on 15 April 2020 at 5:30am BST
At the onset of civil twilight some 40 minutes before sunrise in the UK, the waning last quarter lunar crescent lies in Sagittarius just 8 degrees – slightly less than the span of a fist at arm’s length – above the south-southeast horizon for an observer in the heart of the British Isles.

AN graphic by Ade Ashford.

At 5:30am BST on 15 April, magnitude +0.6 Saturn lies 4¼ degrees to the Moon’s upper left, while magnitude -2.2 Jupiter — 13 times brighter than the ringed planet — is 4 degrees the upper right of the Moon. What’s more, this attractive celestial triumvirate comfortably fits within the field of view of typical 7×50 binoculars. Owners of small telescopes can also see Jovian moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede at this time, but Io is transiting the face of its parent planet.

If your skies are particularly clear, can you glimpse third-magnitude star beta (β) Capricorni, better known as Dabih, some 5½ degrees (slightly more than a 10×50 binocular field of view, but easily encompassed by 7×50 instruments) to the upper left of Saturn? If so, can you see that it’s a double star?

What to look out for on 16 April 2020 at 5:30am BST
The almost 23-day-old Moon lies in the constellation of Capricornus at UK civil dawn, some 3 degrees to the lower right of magnitude +0.6 planet Mars. The lunar crescent is just 5 degrees high in the southeast, so can you glimpse the Red Planet and Moon in the same field of view of 10×50 binoculars this morning?

Caution: never sweep with binoculars close to the horizon near sunrise lest you accidentally view the Sun with disastrous consequences for your eyesight. Consult our interactive online Almanac to find the precise time of sunrise for your location. (Click here for a user’s guide to the Almanac.)