If you’d like to get a look at the planets in our Solar System this year, be sure to consult this handy guide on when and where to look.
As an evening star, Mercury appears in the western sky setting about an hour after the Sun. As a morning star, it appears in the eastern sky rising about an hour before the Sun. There must be a clear, unobstructed horizon on these occasions. Mercury usually appears as a bright “star” with a yellowish or ochre hue. Mornings, January 2 to 23. Evenings, March 9 to 29. Mornings, from May 1 to 21. Evenings,
July 6 to 27. Mornings, August 27 to September 10. Evenings, November 1 to 21. Mornings, December 16 to 31. Mercury will be brightest and easiest to spot in the evening sky between March 9 to 29, and brightest and easiest to spot in the morning sky between January 2 to 23 and again between December 16 to 31.
Always brilliant, and shining with a steady, silvery light. Mornings in the eastern sky at dawn from January 1 to June 21. Evenings in the western sky at dusk from October 12 to December 31. When the year opens, it will resemble a fat crescent moon in small telescopes. It will gradually decrease in size as the overall illumination of its disk increases; for most of this year it will appear as a tiny, brilliant dot of light. In mid-May, Venus will be part of an unusual series of gatherings with Mercury, Mars and Jupiter, low in the east-northeast sky at dawn. Of particular interest will be the very striking conjunction of Venus with Jupiter on the morning of May 11.
Shining like a star with a yellowish-orange hue, Mars can vary considerably in brightness. Mornings from April 15 to December 31. This is an off year for Mars. It will conjunct the Sun on February 4, but on that date will be about 221 million miles from the Sun; consequently, it will be too near to the Sun’s glare to be visible during the first quarter of the year. It will gradually emerge into the morning sky where it will be visible for the balance of the year. It will brighten ever so slowly as its distance from the Earth slowly decreases. By New Year’s Eve, the distance from Earth will have diminished to 97 million miles and it will be near the Leo/Virgo border, shining at magnitude +0.2, which is just a trifle dimmer than the star Rigel. Mars will arrive at opposition to the Sun on March 3, 2012.
Quite brilliant with a silver-white luster. Evenings from January 1 to March 17. Mornings from April 27 to October 27. Evenings again from October 28 to December 31. Brightest in 2011 from October 13 to November 12. During this interval, Jupiter will shine like a dazzling silvery “star” of magnitude -2.9 near the Aries/Pisces/Cetus border. It is at opposition to the Sun on October 28. Jupiter will have an eye-catching, very close conjunction with Venus on the morning of May 11.
Usually shines like a yellowish-white star of moderate brightness. The famous rings are only visible in a telescope. Mornings from January 1 to April 2. Evenings from April 3 to September 27. Mornings again from October 31 to December 31. Brightest in 2011 from March 19 to April 18. During this interval, Saturn will be located in the middle of the constellation Virgo, shining sedately with a yellowish-white glow at magnitude +0.3 (slightly brighter than the similarly hued star, Procyon).
Evenings from January 1 to March 4. Mornings from April 6 to September 24. Evenings again from September 25 to December 31. Uranus can be glimpsed as a naked-eye object by people who are blessed with good eyesight and a clear, dark sky, as well as the foreknowledge of exactly where to look for it. Shining at magnitude +5.8, Uranus can be readily identified with good binoculars, and a small telescope may reveal its tiny, greenish disk. Uranus will spend 2011 in the constellation of Pisces. Brightest in 2011: September 11 to October 9. Uranus will arrive at opposition to the Sun on September 25.
Evenings from January 1 to February 2. Mornings from March 4 to August 21. Evenings again from August 22 to December 31. Neptune is only visible with good binoculars or a telescope.