Night skies in Spain
Axarquia, Costa del Sol, Andalucia, Spain

PLANETARY MOTIONS IN 2011 and 2010

During 2011:
Mercury Mercury, the Solar System┤s smallest planet, moves from the morning sky to evening sky several times a year. As it never strays far from the Sun, it can be hard to find in the Sun┤s glare.

From the northern hemisphere, the most favourable evening appearance of 2011 is during March and the most favourable morning apparition is during September.

2011 Mercury Event
January 09 Greatest Elongation West - 23║ - mag -0.1
February 03 Superior Conjunction
March 23 Greatest Elongation East - 19║ - mag -0.1
April 09 Inferior Conjunction
May 07 Greatest Elongation West - 23║ - mag +1.1
June 01 Superior Conjunction
July 20 Greatest Elongation East - 27║ - mag +1.0
August 17 Inferior Conjunction
September 03 Greatest Elongation West - 18║ - mag -1.2
September 28 Superior Conjunction
November 14 Greatest Elongation East - 23║ - mag +0.0
December 04 Inferior Conjunction
December 23 Greatest Elongation West - 22║ - mag -0.3

Venus Venus, the dazzling morning or evening star, outshines all the other stars and planets in the night sky. Venus commences 2011 as a brilliant morning object at -4.5 magnitude, rising four hours before the Sun in the constellation of Libra, in the south-eastern sky before dawn.

By April, Venus is still a brilliant -4.0 magnitude observable in the tropics and southern hemisphere before sunrise but is lost to viewers in northern latitudes. By mid-July, Venus is too close to the Sun to be visible even in southern latitudes and is lost in the brightening sky.

After passing through Superior Conjunction in August the planet slowly pulls away from the Sun, becoming an evening object that may be glimpsed by observors in equatorial and southerly latitudes in late September. By the end of November, Venus becomes visible in northern latitudes and sees out the year as a beautiful evening object, -4.0 magnitude, setting two and a half hours after the Sun.

2011 Venus Event
January 08 Greatest Elongation West - 47║ - mag -4.5
August 16 Superior Conjunction

Mars Mars

2011 Mars Event
February 03 Conjunction

Jupiter Jupiter

2011 Jupiter Event
April 02 Conjunction - Pisces
August 30 1st Stationary Point - Aries - mag -2.6
October 29 Opposition - Aries - mag -2.9
December 26 2nd Stationary Point - Pisces - mag -2.7

Saturn Saturn

2011 Saturn Event
January 27 1st Stationary Point - Virgo - mag +0.6
April 03 Opposition - Virgo - mag +0.3
June 14 2nd Stationary Point - Virgo - mag +0.8
October 13 Conjunction - Virgo

Uranus
2011 Uranus Event
March 21 Conjunction
September 26 Opposition - Pisces - mag +5.7

Neptune
2011 Neptune Event
February 17 Conjunction
August 22 Opposition - Aquarius - mag +7.8

During 2010:
Mercury

From the northern hemisphere, the most favourable evening appearance of Mercury in 2010 is during April and the most favourable morning apparition is during September.

2010 Mercury Event
January 04 Inferior Conjunction
January 27 Greatest Elongation West - 25║ - mag -0.1
March 14 Superior Conjunction
April 08 Greatest Elongation East - 19║ - mag -1.4
April 28 Inferior Conjunction
May 26 Greatest Elongation West - 25║ - mag -1.0
June 28 Superior Conjunction
August 07 Greatest Elongation East - 27║ - mag +0.2
September 03 Inferior Conjunction
September 19 Greatest Elongation West - 18║ - mag -1.1
October 17 Superior Conjunction
December 01 Greatest Elongation East - 21.5║ - mag -0.4
December 20 Inferior Conjunction

Venus Venus commences 2010 passing through Superior Conjunction on January 11th and too close to the Sun to be visible.

Venus draws away from the Sun to become an evening object from February to late October and Inferior Conjunction. After this the planet reappears as a spectacular early morning object until the end of the year.

2010 Venus Event
January 11 Superior Conjunction
August 20 Greatest Elongation East - 46║ - mag -4.4
September 23 Greatest Brilliancy - mag -4.6
October 29 Inferior Conjunction - mag -4.6
December 04 Greatest Brilliancy - mag -4.7

Mars Mars begins 2010 moving westwards retrograde in the constellation of Leo, then moves into Cancer. The planet is closest to the Earth on 27th January, at 99.3 million kilometres (61.7 million miles) and at opposition on the 29th January. At this time Mars┤ north pole is tilted towards the Earth, it has a magnitude of -1.3, an apparent disk diameter of 14.1 seconds of an arc, rises during early evening and is visible all night long.

During February Mars continues its retrograde motion with a magnitude fading from -1.3 to -0.6 during the month as its distance from Earth increases. It can be seen in the eastern sky as soon as darkness falls and is visible for most of the night.

In March Mars is high in the southern sky throughout the evening with a magnitude further decreasing from -0.6 to +0.2. The planet reaches its 2nd stationary point on the 11th after which it resumes a direct easterly motion. On March 31st Mars is at aphelion, its greatest distance from the Sun - it will be 249.2 million kilometres (154.8 million miles) from the Sun and 150.5 kilometres (93.5 million miles) from Earth.

During April and May Mars remains in Cancer, in the southern sky after dark, fading to +0.7 magnitude in April and +1.0 by the end of May.

By June Mars has moved back into Leo, is visible in the evening sky but sets after midnight and fades to +1.3 magnitude. By late July the planet moves into Virgo, sets before midnight and has faded to +1.4 magnitude. On 31st July Mars passes 1.8║ south of Saturn.

By August, at magnitude +1.5, Mars is visible in the early evening western sky but only for observors in the tropics and southern hemisphere. For the remainder of the year Mars is not visible in the northern hemisphere. It moves into Libra during September and is still visible in southern latitudes until October. By November Mars is too close to the Sun for anyone to observe, leading up to conjunction in February 2011.

2010 Mars Event
January 29 Opposition - Cancer - mag -1.3
March 11 2nd Stationary Point - Cancer - mag -0.6

Jupiter Jupiter begins 2010 at -2.1 magnitude, visible in the early evening western sky. During early January the planet moves from Capricorn into Aquarius.

In February Jupiter has a 0.2║ close conjunction with Venus on the 16th/17th. Venus is six times brighter than Jupiter but both objects are low in the twilight sky and difficult to spot. Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on the 28th February and so may not be observed until the last week of March in the southern hemisphere, low in the eastern sky before dawn.

In May Jupiter, at -2.2 magnitude, moves from Aquarius into Pisces and becomes visible low in the south-eastern sky before dawn in Europe and north America. In equatorial and southern latitudes, the planet rises several hours before the Sun and dominates the eastern morning sky.

In June brightness increases to -2.5 magnitude and, on the 8th, it passes just 0.4║ south of the planet Uranus (at magnitude +5.9).

In July, on the 24th, Jupiter reaches its first stationary point after which it begins a retrograde (westerly) motion.

From August through opposition on 21st September and into October Jupiter, remaining in Pisces at a brilliant -2.9 magnitude, is visible throughout the hours of darkness.

In November Jupiter, in Aquarius, reaches its 2nd stationary point on the 19th and then resumes direct motion. It is visible from darkness and sets in the early morning. As its distance from Earth increases, magnitude fades to -2.5 by the end of November.

Jupiter sees the year out, still as a bright -2.3 magnitude early evening object, setting about midnight. Its direct motion carries the planet back into Pisces during December.

2010 Jupiter Event
February 28 Conjunction - Aquarius - mag -2.0
July 24 1st Stationary Point - Pisces - mag -2.7
September 21 Opposition - Pisces - mag -2.9
November 19 2nd Stationary Point - Aquarius - mag -2.7

Saturn Saturn remains in the constellation of Virgo throughout 2010, seeing the year in at +0.8 magnitude. After its 1st stationary point on January 14th, Saturn becomes retrograde through opposition in March until following the 2nd stationary point at the end of May when it recommences an easterly motion. Following the ring-plane crossing in September 2009, Saturn┤s rings have been gradually opening and are at an angle of 4.8║ at the beginning of January making them discernible in a small telescope.

In February the rings have closed slightly to 4║ and Saturn┤s magnitude is +0.7. The planet can be seen rising in the eastern sky in the late evening.

During March Saturn is at +0.6 magnitude, rises in early evening and is visible throughout the night. The width of the rings has further decreased to 3║. On March 22nd Saturn is at opposition and has a distance of 1,272 million kilometres (790 million miles) from Earth.

During April Saturn is still visible throughout the night with a magnitude fading slightly to +0.8. The angle of the rings decreases to just 2║ by the end of April.

In May Saturn is still visible as an evening object but sets in the early hours of morning. Magnitude decreases to +1.0 and the ring angle, at only 1.7║, reaches its minimum for the year. On the 31st May Saturn reaches its 2nd stationary point and resumes direct motion.

In June Saturn continues to be an evening object, setting after midnight by the end of the month. Its magnitude decreases to +1.1 and the ring angle opens a tiny bit to 2║.

In July magnitude remains at +1.1 and the planet sets before midnight. By August, at magnitude +1.0, the planet is only visible in the tropics and southern hemisphere, low in the western sky after sunset. By september Saturn is approaching conjunction with the Sun at the beginning of October and is too close to our star to be visible until November.

In November Saturn becomes visible low in the eastern sky before dawn at magnitude +0.9, increasing to +0.8 in December.

Saturn┤s moons tend to be hidden in the glare of the rings when they are wide open and, with the exception of 8th-magnitude Titan, all of Saturn's moons are fairly faint and easily confused with background stars. Moreover, the innermost moons, with orbital periods of just one or two day days, swap positions at a furious rate making it difficult to identify them. From Earth-based telescopes, ring plane crossings have been the best times to view Saturn┤s extensive family of moons and to discover new moons but during the 2009 occasion the Sun was only 11║ east which was too close for good observation.

2010 Saturn Event
January 14 1st Stationary Point - Virgo - mag +0.8
March 22 Opposition - Virgo - mag +0.6
May 31 2nd Stationary Point - Virgo - mag +1.0
October 01 Conjunction - Virgo

Uranus
2010 Uranus Event
March 17 Conjunction
September 22 Opposition - Pisces - mag +5.7

Neptune
2010 Neptune Event
February 14 Conjunction
August 20 Opposition - Capricorn - mag +7.8

Planets:
Mercury Venus Mars Jupiter
Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto
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