For February’s sky pretty, you’re going to need a couple of things: a good, clear eastern horizon and an alarm clock. A hot pot of coffee wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Your window of opportunity is 16-18 February 2009. Your target is the eastern horizon just before sunrise. Your payoff is a close conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Mars with Mercury in the neighborhood for good measure.
Your local sunrise will be around 6am, but the key to seeing this treat is getting out before the rising sun overpowers the sight. The sun will be following only 5° behind. Get your coffee brewed and get a seat by 0540, local time. It is important the your chosen vantage point have an unobstructed view of the horizon.
You’ll first spot Mercury 5° above the horizon. Five degrees is about a thumb’s width at arm’s length. Mercury is shining brightly at -0.17 magnitude. On the 16th Mars and Jupiter will rise side-by-side about 0543, local time. Red Mars will be on the right at +1.58 magnitude and -1.58 magnitude Jupiter is less than one degree left of Mars.
If you miss the sixteenth’s sky pretty, try again on 17 Feb. when Mars will be slightly lower than Jupiter, but separated by less then 1/2°. On the 19th, Mars will be one degree directly below Jupiter. From then on, Jupiter will be on a rapid escape from Mars and the Sun. If you get up five minutes earlier on 24 Feb., you’ll catch Jupiter and Mercury just ¾° apart.
If you’re an earlier riser, this sky pretty was made for you. If you’re not, get the coffee pot ready the night before. This is one sight worth the effort. Besides, when’s the last time you enjoyed a sunrise?
Jupiter, courtesy of JPL/NASA