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 in the western sky, Mercury sets about an hour after the Sun does. 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. In the evenings, February 2 to 22, and mornings, March 24 to April 14. Evenings, May 29 to June 19. Mornings, from July 23 to August 9. Evenings, September 25 to October 16. Mornings, November 11 to 30. Mercury will be at its brightest and easiest to spot in the evening sky between February 2 to 22, and brightest and easiest to spot in the morning sky between November 11 to 30.
Always brilliant, and shining with a silvery light. Mornings in the eastern sky at dawn from January 1 to 25. Evenings in the western sky at dusk from May 26 to December 31. When the year opens, it will be visible very low on the east-southeast horizon, about 90 minutes before sunrise. Within several weeks, it will move too close to the Sun to be seen. Superior conjunction is on March 28. Venus will be out of view until late spring, when it will emerge above the west-northwest horizon soon after sunset. Venus will gradually increase in prominence through the balance of the year. Its greatest angular distance (elongation) east of the Sun will be on November 1. Venus will attain its greatest brilliancy in the evening sky on December 7. Through December, it will appear as a striking crescent, getting progressively larger and thinner, in telescopes and steadily held binoculars.
Like a star with a yellowishorange hue, it can vary considerably in brightness. Evenings from January 1 to February 7. Mornings from June 19 to December 31. This is an off year for Mars. It will pass through conjunction with the Sun on April 18; consequently, it will be too near to the Sun to be visible from midwinter through much of the spring. At conjunction, Mars will be about 226 million miles from the Earth. In June, it will gradually emerge in the morning sky, where it will remain through the balance of the year, and will brighten ever so slowly as its distance from the Earth decreases. By New Year’s Eve, that distance will have decreased to 127 million miles, and the planet will be located in the middle of the constellation Virgo, shining at magnitude +0.9, which is as bright as the star Antares. Mars will be at opposition on April 8, 2014.
Quite brilliant with a silverwhite luster. Evenings from January 1 to May 29. Mornings from July 11 to December 31. Jupiter will not come to opposition during 2013; opposition in 2014 will be on January 5. Brightest in 2013 from December 22 to 31. During this interval, Jupiter will shine like a dazzling silvery “star” of magnitude -2.7 in the middle of the constellation Gemini.
Shines like a yellowish-white star of moderate brightness. The famous rings are only visible in a telescope. Mornings from January 1 to April 27. Evenings from April 28 to October 19. Mornings again from October 20 to December 31. Brightest in 2013 from April 14 to May 12. During this interval, Saturn will be located near the border of the constellations Libra and Virgo, shining sedately with a yellowish-white glow at magnitude +0.1 (a trifle dimmer than the similarly hued star, Capella). Saturn arrives at opposition on April 28.
Evenings from January 1 to March 13. Mornings from April 14 to October 2. In the evenings again from October 3 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 knowledge of exactly where to look (Pisces). It shines at magnitude +5.8 and can be readily identified with good binoculars. A small telescope should also reveal its tiny, greenish disk.
Evenings from January 1 to February 5. Mornings from March 8 to August 25. In the evenings again from August 26 to December 31. Shining at magnitude +7.8, Neptune is only visible with good binoculars or a telescope. It will spend all of 2013 in the zodiacal constellation Aquarius and will come to opposition on August 26.