Be sure to take a look in the east the next clear morning, around 6 or 6:30 a.m. Venus and Jupiter are shining spectacularly in the morning glow of dawn. Venus is the brightest, and higher. Jupiter is at its closest to Venus on Sunday and Monday mornings, only 1.1 degrees apart.
Mars is a lot dimmer, shining just below Jupiter and distinctly red-orange. Binoculars will help if the sky is too bright at the time you look.
Look each morning and notice how the configuration of this trio changes, as the planets move in their orbits.
Much further down in the eastern sky is the planet Mercury. You will need to be in a spot with a good, clear horizon. Again, binoculars will assist in the advancing sunrise glow.
Venus appears so bright because it is relatively near the sun and Earth and it is perpetually shrouded in clouds, which reflect the sunlight well. Jupiter is a lot larger than Venus (and Earth) but because Jupiter is also much more distant, Venus wins in the magnitude contest.
Venus is glowing at magnitude -4.6 which is far brighter than any star in the nighttime sky. Jupiter shines at magnitude -1.8 this month. Mars is a lot dimmer, at magnitude +1.7. The higher the number on the magnitude scale, the dimmer. The faintest star you can typically see with unaided eyes in a rural area without any moonlight, is about +6.
Brilliant Venus, when seen in the east, is commonly called the “Morning Star.” With Jupiter, we have two!
Although the sun is yet to rise, when you look at these planets you have real witness to the fact that the sun does shine, heralding the sunlight in advance. The same is true, of course, each time you see the moon.
Take a moment to contemplate what you are seeing. These three very different worlds, all unique and bizarre compared to the Earth, have become all the more familiar from visiting space probes. Mars in particular, that dim red speck you’ll see in the east, is right now beaming explored by rovers and orbiting craft, making utterly amazing discoveries. NASA is fast on track to developing a manned mission to Mars, currently projected in the 2030’s.
A most interesting project if you have a small telescope is to train it on Venus and keep it there until past the time of sunrise. You can do the same with Jupiter. Both planets are easy to see in a telescope in broad daylight if you know exactly where to look. The problem is that the bright daylight sky overwhelms even the brightest planets, keeping you from seeing them with unaided eyes. There are no reference points visible - stars - to help you know where to look. By tracking either of them into the daylight, you can say you saw the planet in the daytime.
Note of caution: NEVER look at the sun in a telescope unless you have it properly fitted with a safe, solar filter, or you use an indirect means such as projecting the sun’s image onto a white piece of cardboard. Full moon is on Oct. 27. This is referred to as the Hunter’s Moon, which follows the Harvest Moon in September. Keep looking up!

Peter W. Becker is managing editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, Pennsylvania. He loves getting notes at news@neagle.com.