Solar system showing relative size of (but not distance between) planets.

Keep tabs on our planets with Morrison Planetarium's quarterly guide to planetary activity.


The planet Mercury, image by NASA/JPL

The nearest planet to the Sun, Mercury is the most difficult of the naked-eye planets to see, barely visible in the early evening sky at the beginning of October and often a challenge to spot in the glow of the setting Sun. Still climbing toward greatest eastern elongation, Mercury's angular separation from the Sun is slowly increasing but halts on October 19, when it's 25 degrees from the solar disk and about six degrees south of brighter Venus, both setting less than an hour after the Sun.

Passing between Earth and the Sun and retreating into the glow, it reaches inferior conjunction on November 11. On that day, the tiny planet passes directly in front of the Sun and can be seen crossing the solar disk. For more about this rare transit of Mercury, see Highlights.

After inferior conjunction, Mercury returns to the morning sky, becoming visible in mid-November and rising before dawn, taking a leap above the horizon that provides observers with the planet's best predawn appearance of the year. It reaches greatest western elongation on November 28, when it rises more than 90 minutes before dawn. Then, it slowly retreats back into the Sun's glow, disappearing from view around mid-December.

The crescent Moon can be seen near Mercury just after sunset on October 29 and just before dawn on November 24-25 and on December 25 (although December's encounter occurs too close to the Sun to be seen in the glare).



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

Although Venus is east of the Sun and above the horizon just after sunset at the beginning of October, it's very low and hidden in the twilight until November. Gradually emerging from the glow and visible in the early evening sky, it passes very close to Jupiter on November 23, then Saturn on December 10. Through telescopes, it presents a waning gibbous phase and is at its smallest, because it's on the far side of the Sun, as seen from Earth.

The Moon passes near Venus on October 29, but this encounter is very difficult to see in the glow of the setting Sun. The Moon's later encounters on November 28 and December 28 are slightly higher above the horizon and easier to observe.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

The Red Planet is hidden in the Sun's glow for most of October and only starts creeping slowly out of the morning twilight late in the month. At the beginning of November, it rises about 90 minutes before dawn against the stars of Virgo the Maiden and passes within three degrees of that constellation's brightest star, Spica, on November 11. By the start of December, Mars rises about two hours before sunrise as it moves from Virgo across the boundary into Libra the Scales.

The waning crescent Moon passes near Mars on October 26, November 24 (with Mercury and the star Spica clustered nearby), and December 22-23.



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

The largest of the planets lingers in Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer, located progressively lower in the southwest from night to night and slowly inching across the border into Sagittarius the Archer by mid-November. It passes close to Venus on November 23 and finally disappears into the glow of twilight by early-to-mid December.

The Moon passes nearby on October 3 and again on October 30-31 (moving from slightly west of Jupiter to slightly east of it the following night), and repeating once more on November 27-28. Its encounter on December 25 is too close to the Sun to be observed.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

The slowest-moving of the naked-eye planets, Saturn spends the rest of the year (and then some) against the stars of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. Its separation from the Sun shrinks during that period, so it gradually shifts westward from day to day and is seen closer to the Sun's glare after sunset, becoming washed from view in mid-to-late December.

The waxing Moon can be seen near Saturn just after sunset on the evenings of October 5, November 1, and November 29. Its encounters on December 26-27 take place very close to the Sun and are washed from view in the glare.


Sunrise & Sunset Table

Times are for San Francisco, California, and will vary slightly for other locations.

October 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:05 am | 12:59 pm | 6:53 pm 
All times PDT

November 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:35 am | 12:53 pm | 6:11 pm
All times PDT

December 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
7:06 am | 11:58 pm | 4:51 pm
All times PDT


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