June 23, 2022: The five bright morning planets parade across the morning sky in a rare pattern. Venus passes the Pleiades star cluster before daybreak.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:16 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:30 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The morning planet extravaganza is peaking as the moon appears with the morning planets before sunrise. The five bright planets appearing in order from the sun – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – is a rare event. Even seeing the bright five together in a mixed order is infrequent, occurring every two to three years.
An event of five bright planets appearing together in the sky simultaneously is centered on the Great Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, either in order or in a mixed order. These conjunctions occur about every twenty years.
To see five planets in order in the morning sky, the event occurs in a window beginning about five years following a Jupiter – Saturn conjunction. For an evening lineup, the display occurs in a five – year span before the conjunction, when all five fit into the sky after sunset.
After these windows centering on the Jupiter – Saturn conjunctions, three or four planets can fit into the sky simultaneously. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is too large and when Mercury is added, there’s not enough sky to fit them together.
During these times, the planets can be in order, but not visible simultaneously. For example, during November 2026, Saturn is visible in the evening sky, followed by Jupiter and Mars – rising before midnight – followed by Venus, and then Mercury, but Saturn sets before inner planets Venus and Mercury rise.
After the current exhibition, the next time the bright five appear in any order is in the evening sky during December 2022 and again during mid-April, 2036. In 2036 the order is Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, spanning 88° from above the sunset point toward the south. The next time the bright five are in order from the sun is in the evening sky during late-April and early-May of 2100. During that year, the Great Conjunction occurs September 24.
In addition to the bright five planets, Uranus, Neptune, and the classic ninth planet Pluto are in the sky this morning. Tomorrow morning, the crescent moon and Uranus fit into the same binocular field. Neptune requires a binocular or small telescope, while seeing elusive Pluto takes a very dark location, a large telescope, and some persistence to verify its location by watching it move during multiple mornings.
The planet parade is aligned in the morning sky before sunrise. Begin at around an hour before daybreak. The crescent moon, 24% illuminated is nearly 25° up in the eastern sky.
This morning and during the next few mornings, notice earthshine, reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land, that gently illuminates the night portion of the moon.
Mars is 7.5° to the upper right of the lunar crescent and bright Jupiter is 14.8° to the upper right of the Red Planet. Mars is marching eastward faster than Jupiter, and it continues to open a gap to the Jovian Giant.
Saturn, over 40° to the right of Jupiter, is about one-third of the way up in the sky above the south horizon. The Ringed Wonder is the dimmest of the bright morning planets. Look carefully for it.
Brilliant Venus continues to open space with the other three planets. This morning Earth’s Twin planet passes 5.7° to the lower right of the Pleiades star cluster. The cluster is making its first morning appearance after passing behind the sun last month. First locate the Morning Star, about 10° up in the east-northeast. Use a binocular to find the star cluster. The planet and the stellar bunch easily fit into the same binocular field of view.
As twilight progresses, dimmer Mars and Saturn become more difficult to locate without optical assistance. By beginning early, they can be tracked into brighter twilight. By 45 minutes before daybreak, Mercury joins the other four planets. It is above the east-northeast horizon, 9.8° to the lower left of Venus. A hillside or elevated structure provides a clearer view over terrestrial obstructions.
The five bright morning planets in their order from the sun, span over 105°.
Each morning the moon moves farther eastward. To locate Mercury, the lunar crescent is 3.6° to the upper left of the speedy planet in four mornings. In two mornings, the thinning crescent moon is 2.6° to the left of the moon. Be sure to look for this pairing.
The five-planet parade quickly breaks up when Mercury slips into brighter twilight. Be sure to see this morning grouping of the five bright planets.
- 2023, October 21: Three Bright Planets, First Quarter MoonOctober 21, 2023: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to locate during nighttime hours. The First Quarter moon phase occurs this evening.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.