Four bright planets shine from horizon to horizon during pre-sunrise hours. Three telescopic planets are in the sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Four bright planets shine in a morning planetary feast from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline during the pre-sunrise hours.
Starting with brilliant Venus, about one hour before sunrise, the planet is low in the east-northeast. In this bright sky, it is among the stars of Taurus. The Pleiades star cluster (circled in the image above), shines above the planet.
Tomorrow and for 18 following days, Venus is at its interval of greatest brightness.
Higher in the sky, in the southeast, Mars shines from among the stars of Pisces. It is 0.7° to the lower left of 29 Piscium. Mars is moving eastward compared to the starry background. Compare this morning’s position to its location in the two-picture slide show above.
Farther west, Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius. Jupiter and Saturn are moving backwards compared to the starry background. After they reverse their direction in September, Jupiter passes Saturn in a Great Conjunction. These groupings occur every 19.6 years.
This illusion occurs as Earth approaches and passes these planets nearly every year.
The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 5.9°. In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.9° below 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the image), while Saturn is 2.8° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap). While Jupiter and Saturn move against the starry background more slowly than Mars, the two-image slide show above reveals their changing positions.
Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun on July 14, Saturn and the sun on July 20, and Mars and our central star on October 13. This is known as opposition. At this time the planets rise in the eastern sky at sunset, appear in the south at midnight (at 1 a.m. during Daylight Time), and set at sunrise.
Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are in the morning sky as well. For those observers with binoculars or telescopes. Uranus is in Aries, 1.2° to the right of 29 Arietis. The planet is nearly 40° to the lower left of Mars. Dimmer Neptune, 9.4° to the upper right of Mars, is among very dim stars of eastern Aquarius. It is 3.5° to the left of Phi Aquarii. Pluto is near Jupiter. A moderate aperture, approximately 10-inch mirror and larger, is needed to see this very dim world. It is best seen about 2 a.m. when it is in the south. At this time it is 0.7° below Jupiter.
Mercury joins the scene beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon.