An hour before sunrise four bright morning planets parade across the sky from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn form an arc across the plane of the solar system this morning. An hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus shines from low in the east-northeastern sky. It is entering into the morning sky after its inferior conjunction on June 3.
While the sky is bright, Venus is among the stars of Taurus. Looking through a binocular, the Pleiades star cluster and the star Aldebaran were visible. They are indicated on the image above.
This morning Venus enters an 18-day interval when it appears brightest.
The Hyades star cluster is between Venus and Aldebaran. On July 8, Venus appears in the middle of the cluster. A week from now the planet and the stars appear in a higher and darker sky. The brilliant planet continues its path through Taurus during July.
Mars is in the southeast. It is the brightest “star” in that region of the sky. It is marching eastward among the stars of Pisces. Mars reverses direction on September 9 and begins to retrograde, an illusion as our faster moving planet approaches and passes planets farther from the sun than Earth. Earth passes between Mars and the sun on October 13, 2020 (opposition).
At the same time this morning, Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest. This giant planet pair is slow moving. Jupiter revolves around the sun in 11.9 years, while Saturn’s year is 29.5 earth-years. Once every generation, Jupiter passes Saturn in what is known as a Great Conjunction. The next event is December 21, 2020.
Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding. This morning they are 5.9° apart. The separation grows until September when they resume their normal (direct) eastward motion compared to the stars.
Jupiter is at opposition on July 14; Saturn, July 20.
An hour before sunrise, stand in an open area to trace the plane of the solar system across the sky from Venus to Jupiter.
Mercury joins the scene beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon.