Five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible together before the morning planet parade begins to break up.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Five planets arch across the clear sky this morning. For the next few mornings during twilight and before Jupiter sets, view five planets that span the sky from the east-northeast skyline to the southwest horizon.
Bright Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest among the stars of eastern Sagittarius. They are retrograding – moving west – compared to the starry background. This is an illusion as our planet moves away from this giant planet pair. They continue to retrograde until September. This morning the Jupiter – Saturn gap is 7.2°. The planets continue to separate until their retrograde motion ends.
During the fall months, Jupiter inches up and catches the Ringed Wonder on December 21, 2020 for a Great Conjunction. This is the closest conjunction of the two planets since 1623.
Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the southeast as the sky darkens each evening. Use a binocular to watch them continue to move westward compared to the stars identified in the photo above. The stars, with their astronomical names Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap on the photo), 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr), 50 Sagittarii (50 Sgr) and Pi Sagittarii (π Sgr), make the background to watch the planets. During the next month, the planet pair is lower in the southwestern sky during early morning hours and higher in the eastern sky during evening hours.
In the photo above three of Jupiter’s four largest satellites are visible. They can be seen with a binocular, depending on their positions when they are viewed.
Mars is farther east, over halfway up in the southeast among the stars of the constellation Cetus. Mars is well passed 20 Ceti (20 Cet on the photo) and heading toward a starfield in Pisces that includes Zeta Piscium (ζ Psc on the photo), 89 Piscium (89 Psc), Mu Piscium (μ Psc), Nu Piscium (ν Psc), and Omicron Piscium (ο Psc).
Mars begins its retrograde motion during early September near the stars on the left side of the starfield in the photo. Use a binocular to watch the Red Planet move toward them during the next few weeks. The planet rises at about 11:30 p.m. local time and its easier to see in the east an hour later.
Meanwhile in the eastern sky, brilliant Venus is in Taurus, 7.3° to the lower left of Aldebaran, the constellation’s brightest star. The planet continues moving eastward and away from Aldebaran.
Together, Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster make a “V” shape, sideways when it is in the eastern sky, to identify the head of the Bull. The Pleiades star cluster, higher in the sky, is riding on the Bull’s back.
Elusive Mercury comes into view as Jupiter is low in the southwest. It is to the lower left of Venus in the brighter glow of morning twilight.
In a few mornings, Jupiter sets before Mercury comes into full view, leaving four planets. Look early enough in the morning to see Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus. A view later during brighter morning twilight provides a view of Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Mercury.
Here’s more about the planets during July.