Mid-Valley Skies: Five planets visible this week

Mid-Valley Skies: Five planets visible this week


This year, February is a fine month for observing planets. If the weather clears, there will be evening views of Venus and Mercury and morning views of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, along with our Moon.

Venus and Mercury in the evening

To see Venus and Mercury, go out tonight at 6 p.m. and look just to the south of west. Venus is the brightest object in the sky tonight at an altitude of 35 degrees. From Venus look toward the glow of the recently set sun. Mercury will be visible about 10 degrees above the horizon. While it is less than one-tenth as bright as Venus, it will still be the brightest object in that area. A pair of binoculars will certainly help.

Venus will be high and bright in the sky for the next month. However, Mercury is only visible until the middle of the week. Seeing these two planets together is a real treat. if the weather in the valley is poor this week, head on over to Central Oregon for a viewing.

Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the morning

Monday through Thursday morning provides a view of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the moon. The best views this week are just before sunrise at 6:30 am. On Monday, the wide crescent moon will be 20 degrees up in the south. To the Moon’s lower left, at an altitude of 10 degrees is brilliant Jupiter. Continue along the line of the moon and Jupiter toward the southeast and you will see Saturn just 6 degrees above the horizon, about one-fourth as bright as Jupiter. In binoculars you will get nice views of the craters of the Moon. Binoculars will also show the moons of Jupiter.

To see Mars, draw a line between Jupiter and the moon. Mars will be the bright red object halfway between. It is dimmer than Saturn but will still look nice against the background of the Milky Way stars.

On the morning of February 18, as the moon rises in the southeast around 4:30 a.m. it will be covering Mars. Watch it for 15 minutes and you will see Mars blink into visibility. It will only be at an altitude of 5 degrees, so you will need an unobstructed view of the horizon.

Later in the week, while the planet’s positions will not have changed much, the Moon will be moving closer to the horizon and showing a much thinner crescent. On Thursday morning it will be a very thin crescent just below Saturn.

With a little luck from the weather, you can see 5 planets this week. This summer come on out to one of the Heart of the Valley Astronomers club star parties and fill out your solar system scorecard with telescope views of Uranus and Neptune.

Astronomy question of the month: Is it possible to see all the planets in one night?

Last month’s question: What deep sky object in the constellation Orion can be easily seen with the naked eye in dark skies, and easily seen with a small pair of binoculars from your own backyard?

Answer: The Orion Nebula. Visible with just your eye, it is a beautiful site in even the smallest telescopes. It is a birthplace of stars that is about 1400 light years away. 

Resource: HVA club

The Heart of the Valley Astronomers is a group of amateur astronomers dedicated to sharing our passion for the sky with the local community. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month (next: March 10 at 7:00 PM) at the Walnut Community Room, 4950 NW Fair Oaks Drive in Corvallis. Meetings are free and open to everyone. For more information, see www.hvaastronomy.com, or visit us on Facebook.

Tom Carrico is a member of Heart of the Valley Astronomy Club.


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