Innermost planet Mercury puts on its best morning display of the year for Northern Hemisphere observers from late November to early December. Skywatchers in the British Isles should find a location offering an unobstructed view of the southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise to get the best views, with the Red Planet and star Spica – the brightest in Virgo – also nearby.
Mercury attains a very favourable western elongation of almost 28 degrees from the Sun on 11 April, which means that the innermost planet is a morning object in the eastern sky before sunrise. Antipodean skywatchers are in the enviable position of being able to see Mercury and Venus close together for several mornings in a dark sky before the onset of astronomical twilight.
Brilliant planet Venus attains its greatest elongation almost 47° west of the Sun at dawn in the UK on Sunday, 6 January. Find a location that offers you a view down to the southeast horizon around 7am GMT and you may catch a glimpse of Jupiter too. The planetary duo is currently 14 degrees apart, but drawing nearer for a close conjunction on 22 January.
Have you ever seen the closest planet to the Sun? If you wish to tick Mercury off your To-See list, particularly if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, now until the middle of May is the time to be scrutinising the eastern sky about an hour before sunrise. Mercury also has a close encounter with an old crescent Moon on 14 May.
Observers in the UK and Western Europe should find an observing location offering an unobscured eastern horizon an hour before sunrise on Sunday, 10 September to see innermost planet Mercury just 0.6 degrees from Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. Conspicuous planet Venus is your convenient celestial guide to finding Regulus, Mercury and Mars.
In the remaining days of October and early into November, a fascinating series of planetary peregrinations plays out low in the East before dawn twilight gets too bright. Venus, like a sprinter on the inside lane of a running track, overtakes both Jupiter in Mars in two readily observable conjunctions set against the stellar backdrop of constellations Leo and Virgo.