Click here for the view on July 5, 2020
The moon leads a July morning planetary parade of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
As the moon sets in the west, four bright planets march in their planetary parade across the sky from the southwest horizon to the east-northeast skyline this morning (July 4, 2020).
One hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter and Saturn shine from the southwest this morning. In the photo above the setting moon illuminates a thin cloud veil. At this time Mars is in the southeast sky, while brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast. (See the details and photos below for their positions relative to the background stars.) For the next several days, stand in an open area to view the four planets simultaneously as morning twilight progresses. The best views occur 1 hour before sunrise to 35 minutes before sunrise.
The parade begins each evening with Jupiter and Saturn appearing low in the eastern sky about two hours after sunset. By 1:30 a.m. Mars enters the sky low in the east. As the nighttime hours continue the planet trio moves westward. Venus then rises during brighter morning twilight.
On July 4, the full moon rises before Jupiter. It appears to the upper right of Jupiter. Tomorrow morning (July 5) the moon is in the southwest with Jupiter and Saturn.
Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon at about 45 minutes before sunrise.
To our eyes, the planets appear as overly bright stars.
Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius. Compared to the starry background, they are moving westward. This morning Saturn is 3.2° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap on the photo), while Jupiter is 2.3° below 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr). The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.2° that widens as the planets retrograde.
Retrograde motion is an illusion as our planet catches and passes a planet farther from the sun than Earth. As we approach, the planet stops moving eastward compared to the starry background and appears to move westward. Earth passes between the planet and the sun (opposition) and revolves away from the planet. After a spell the planet resumes its eastward motion.
Retrograde motion is not to be confused with the daily rising and setting of the sun, moon, stars, and planets from Earth’s rotation. We see the planets rise in the east and set in the west, but their positions compared to the stars changes each night. Watch the moon appear eastward each morning from its previous position until it appears with Venus on July 17.
Jupiter is at opposition on July 20, while Saturn is there six days later. The planets continue to retrograde until September. When they resume their eastward motion relative to the stars, Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn in a once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020. This is the closest conjunction of the planets since 1623.
On their opposition nights, these giant planets rise in the eastern sky when the sun sets. Around 1 a.m. (midnight during standard time) they are in the south. They set in the west as the sun rises.
In this sequence of four images notice the changing position of Jupiter and Saturn.
Because of the moon’s bright glare, use a binocular to see the planets with their background stars.
Mars is in the southeast among the dim stars of Pisces. It continues to march eastward compared to the stars. This morning it is 4.2° from 29 Piscium (29 Psc).
Mars begins to retrograde in September and passes its opposition on October 13, 2020.
In this sequence of four images notice the changing position of Mars.
The obvious display of planetary motion occurs in the east-northeast as Venus moves through the Hyades, a star cluster along with the star Aldebaran that forms the head of Taurus the Bull. The head resembles a letter “V” tipped on its side. This morning Venus is 0.4° to the right of Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau) and 3.4° to the upper right of Aldebaran. The best morning is likely July 8 when Venus appears in the center of the Hyades star cluster. Because of the brightening sky, use a binocular to track Venus through the cluster.
In this sequence of four images notice the changing position of Venus.
For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.