How do I tell which planet is which? (Beginner)

Often I look up at the stars and once in a while I will see what looks like a star but is obviously a planet because its light is not bent by the Earth's atmosphere. However, I am always curious to know WHICH planet am I looking at. How can I find information that can tell me which planets I see in the sky at what positions and times?

Each planet also looks slightly different from the others.

Mercury is difficult to see because it is always close to the sun. Venus is white and very bright, and is never seen late at night. (hey, that rhymes!) Mars is the red planet. Jupiter is yellow and very bright. Saturn is also yellow, but not as bright as Jupiter.

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn can be seen at any time in any position on the sky. Mercury is always very close to the sun and is very difficult to see. When Venus is visible, it is always seen right after sunset or right before sunrise, near the horizon in the direction of the sun.

About the Author

Dave Kornreich

Dave was the founder of Ask an Astronomer. He got his PhD from Cornell in 2001 and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Physical Science at Humboldt State University in California. There he runs his own version of Ask the Astronomer. He also helps us out with the odd cosmology question.

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