Update: Click here for the July 20 article about the five planets.
Update July 19: For this writer all five planets were visible but not simultaneously. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus were visible. As the sky brightened storms clouds, moving in from the southwest, covered the giant planet pair. The moon then rose above the horizon with Mercury.
Without the moon, five planets are visible for about the next week before Mercury disappears back into the sun’s glare.
See the moon and 5 planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – simultaneously before sunrise on July 19, 2020.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Forty-five minutes before sunrise, the crescent moon and five planets are visible curved across the morning sky on July 19, 2020. Find a spot with clear horizons in the east-northeast and the southwest. A binocular may help finding the moon, Mercury, and Jupiter.
(After July 19, the five planets are in the sky without the moon. By late July, Mercury then moves back into bright twilight. and the sun’s glare. The four bright planets, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are visible in the morning sky until mid-August, when Jupiter, and then Saturn disappear below the southwest horizon.)
Here’s what to look for:
- Brilliant Venus blazes in the eastern sky. The star Aldebaran is nearby.
- The very thin crescent moon, 28.2 days past the New Moon phase and only 1% illuminated, is very low in the east-northeast. This is where the binocular might help.
- Mercury is to the right of the moon, about 5°. Make a fist and stretch your arm. Five degrees is about the distance from your thumb knuckle to your pointer finger knuckle. A binocular will help here as well. Can you see Mercury without the binocular once you find it?
- Bright Mars, not as brilliant as Venus is the “star” that’s about halfway up in the sky in the south-southeast.
- Jupiter – brighter than Mars, but low in the sky – is just above the horizon in the southwest.
- Saturn, dimmer than Jupiter, is about 7° to the upper left of the Giant Planet. Both appear to our eyes as “stars.” Their separation is a little more than the knuckle to pointer distance described above. Don’t confuse Saturn with the star Fomalhaut, farther south, but at about the same altitude as Saturn.
- Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are also in the sky between Venus and Jupiter. A telescope is needed to see that trio of planets.
Five planets and the crescent moon are in the sky at one time! During the next few mornings five planets are visible, but without the moon. Additionally, Jupiter is quickly leaving the sky. So on successive mornings, look 3-4 minutes earlier each day. You may catch them in the sky until about July 25. Until about mid-August look about two hours before sunrise to see the four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.
For those with a telescope
The Classic 9 planets (Mercury – Pluto), the moon, and two dwarf planets are in the sky simultaneously on July 19 as Mercury approaches its greatest morning elongation and the moon wanes toward its solar conjunction. Here’s how to see this solar system gallery of planetary objects:
- Because, Pluto, and Eris are quite dim and need considerable aperture, start with Pluto when it crosses the meridian at about 1 a.m. CDT. Sky & Telescope magazine has a finder chart for Pluto (m = 14.3) in its July 2020 issue. Pluto is 1.6° to the lower left of Jupiter. Jupiter crosses the meridian about seven minutes before Pluto; so, there is a bright marker to get you to Pluto’s vicinity. My back of the envelope calculations predict you’ll need at least a 10-inch telescope to see Pluto. The S&T article reports at least an 8-inch aperture is needed.
- Saturn is 6.8° to the upper left of Jupiter. That makes 3 planets!
After locating Pluto, look for the dimmer planets before morning twilight begins at approximately 3:30 a.m. CDT.
- Ceres (1Ceres, m = 7.5) is among a dim starfield in Aquarius with other 7th and 8th magnitude stars, 2.6° to the upper left of 88 Aquarii (88 Aqr, m = 3.6).
- Neptune (m = 7.8) is over 24° up in the east-southeast, 3.6° to the left of Phi Aquarii (φ Aqr, m = 3.6). Another dim star 96 Aquarii (96 Aqr, m = 5.5) is 1.8° to the right of the planet.
- As the beginning of morning twilight approaches, Uranus (m = 5.8), over 26° up in the east, is 0.8° to the right of 29 Arietis (m = 6.0). Increase the magnification to see the disk of the planet. On the morning of July 14, the moon is 4.8° to the lower right of the planet.
- Maybe knowing that Eris (136188Eris, m = 18.6) is there is enough, because you’ll need at least a 1.9-meter telescope to see it. Eris is 25.0° up in the east-southeast, 4.3° to the upper right of 60 Ceti (60 Cet, m = 5.4)
- Mars is 35° up in the southeast.
- Venus is appearing low in the east-northeast, near Aldebaran.
- Depending on the morning of these observations, Mercury becomes visible. On July 19, the moon is near this speedy planet. For the next several mornings, the Classic 9 planets are in the sky. Jupiter is quickly disappearing as Mercury passes its greatest elongation.
Jupiter and Saturn are headed toward their Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. Look for them low in the southeast during the early evening hours of July and August 2020.