The five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – are strung across the plane of the solar system from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline. Simultaneously, five planets are visible.
Update: The planets on July 23, click here.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
This morning the five bright planets appear as beads on a necklace that is stretched across the morning sky.
Without the moon, Mercury shines low in the east-northeast, to the lower left of brilliant Venus. Mercury is in the sky for several more mornings until it disappears back into the sun’s glare. In two mornings it reaches its greatest separation (elongation) from the sun. It never strays far from the sun’s glare, making it a challenge to view.
Brilliant Venus is to the upper right of Mercury. Before later twilight brightened the sky, Venus is visible 5.1° to the lower left of Aldebaran. This star along with the Hyades star cluster form the face of Taurus the Bull. The Pleiades star cluster is above the scene.
Meanwhile, Mars is the lone bright “star” in the southeast among the dim stars of Cetus. This morning it is 2.7° to the upper left of 20 Ceti (20 Cet on the photo). A binocular is needed to see the starfield.
Mars is marching eastward. It begins the illusion of retrograde motion in early September as Earth approaches and passes the planet. Earth is between the sun and Mars on October 13, 2020. On this date, the sun and planet are in opposite directions from Earth. Near opposition the outer planets are closest to Earth and brightest in the sky.
Saturn and Jupiter are farther west in eastern Sagittarius. The planets are retrograding – moving westward compared to the background stars. With a binocular check the planets’ positions compared to the starry background. This morning Saturn is 4.3° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap), while Jupiter is 4.0° to the lower right 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).
Jupiter was at opposition last week and Saturn is at opposition today. Jupiter and Saturn appear to reverse their directions in September. Then Jupiter inches toward Saturn and passes it on December 21, 2020 for a Great Conjunction.
Continue to look for the five planets for the next several days.
Here’s more about the planets during July.