Morning Planets

StarDate: October 4, 2009

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Three of the seven other planets of the solar system congregate in the east as dawn begins to paint the sky the next few mornings. They're pretty low, though, so you might need some help to pick them out.

The brightest of the bunch is Venus. It's the dazzling "morning star," so you won't need any help to find it. But you will need a clear horizon -- nearby trees or buildings will block it from view.

The other two planets stretch to the lower left of Venus: Mercury and Saturn. Mercury is the brighter of the two, and for the next few days is slightly higher in the sky. In fact, Mercury stands farthest from the Sun for its current morning appearance, so this is the best time to look for it.

The configuration of these worlds changes every day, as their orbits around the Sun carry them in different directions and at different speeds.

Venus is dropping slowly toward the Sun, so it'll disappear in the Sun's glare in a few weeks. Mercury, too, will soon dive back toward the Sun, and will disappear within a couple of weeks.

Saturn, on the other hand, is moving away from the Sun. It will move past the other two planets over the next few days. And in the following months, it'll continue to rise earlier each night -- moving into the evening sky this winter, and putting on its best showing of the year at the start of spring.

So watch for this bright but tricky lineup of planets beginning about an hour to 45 minutes before sunrise.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

The one constant in the Universe: StarDate magazine

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