July mornings open with four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – that stretch across the sky from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – dot the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system, during early morning twilight this morning. Today’s sky was slightly overcast, yet, the bright planets’ light poked through the clouds. This morning’s images do not show any background stars.
Venus is above the Hyades star cluster. During the next several mornings, Venus appears to move through the group. The best morning is likely July 8, when the brilliant planet is in the middle of the cluster. Through a small telescope, Venus shows a tiny crescent that resembles the moon.
Mars is in the southeast, nearly halfway up in the sky from the horizon to overhead (zenith). The planet is marching eastward among the stars of western Pisces.
Mars is at opposition on October 13, 2020, in eastern Pisces. The planet remains in the constellation for the remainder of the calendar year. On clear mornings, use a binocular to notice that it is farther eastward (to the left) compared to the starry background than the previous mornings. No stars are visible in the accompanying image of Mars this morning for the clouds.
Giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest during early morning twilight. They shine from eastern Sagittarius, where they are retrograding and separating. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.0° this morning.
The planets beyond Earth’s orbit appear to stop moving eastward compared to the starry background as we approach and pass between them and the sun (opposition). For a time, the planets then seem to backup or retrograde. Earth moves between Jupiter and the sun on July 14, while we pass Saturn 6 days later.
At these times, the outer planets rise in the east as the sun sets in the west, appear in the south at midnight (1 a.m. during daylight time), and set in the west at sunrise. They are opposite the sun
Jupiter and Saturn begin to move eastward again in September. Jupiter then slowly overtakes and passes Saturn in a once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. This year’s conjunction is the closest since 1623.
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.
For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.