June 27, 2022: The crescent moon is near elusive Mercury before sunrise. Not until 2100, will the five bright planets appear in order from the sun.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:18 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:30 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Daylight is beginning to decrease, although it is still 15 hours, twelve minutes at Chicago’s latitude. The latest sunset, 8:30 p.m. CDT in Chicago, continues through July 1.
The planet parade of the five bright planets and the rare occurrence of seeing them in order from the sun is ending. Mercury rises 73 minutes before sunrise, appearing to the lower left of Venus at 45 minutes before sunrise. Beginning tomorrow, Mercury rises two to four minutes later each morning, becoming more difficult to spot in the bright twilight.
In addition to the five bright planets shining in the morning sky, Uranus, Neptune, and the ninth classic planet Pluto appear in the morning sky as well. Observing the dimmer trio requires some practiced observing techniques to find them. For those who have the inclination and larger telescopes, see this article or listen to this podcast. The classic nine planets, from Mercury to Pluto, are scattered across the morning sky.
Planet parades with the five bright planets visible simultaneously either before sunrise or after sunset are centered on the Great Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn that occur about every twenty years. The decade-long windows are followed by a period when the planets can appear during a single night, but not simultaneously.
The current planet parade with the five planets in order from the sun – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – is a rare occurrence. The next time this occurs is in 2100. The next time the five bright planets are visible simultaneously is during mid-April 2036, during the next window, leading up to the 2040 Jupiter – Saturn conjunction.
This morning start looking for the bright planets at least an hour before sunrise. This provides an opportunity to see dimmer Mars and Saturn, then follow them into brighter twilight.
Referencing Mars or Saturn compared to a roof top or a tree branch helps locating them as the sky brightens and Mercury become visible.
At one hour before sunrise, brilliant Morning Star Venus is about 8° up in the east-northeast. Because it is low in the sky, find a clear horizon, or use a hilltop or elevated structure to see the brilliant planet. The Pleiades star cluster might be visible to the unaided eye. It is nearly 8° above Venus, and mostly outside the same binocular field with the planet. Can you see the star cluster without the binocular’s optical assist? As twilight brightens, the cluster fades into it.
Fifteen minutes later, Mercury is about 4° above the east-northeast horizon, 10.8° to the lower left of Venus. The thin crescent moon, 3% illuminated, is 3.6° to the upper left of Mercury. Look carefully for Mercury and the razor thin crescent.
Do not confuse Mercury with Aldebaran, slightly higher and 7.0° to the right of the speedy planet. The brightest star in Taurus is making its first morning appearance. During the next several mornings, the star becomes visible without a binocular. This morning it is 6.3° to the lower left of Venus. The Morning Star passes 4.1° from Aldebaran on July 1.
Bright Jupiter, nearly 40° up in the southeast and 58.0° to the upper right of Venus, is 17.3° to the upper right of dimmer Mars. The Red planet is about one-third of the way from Jupiter to Venus.
Locate Mars compared to a tree, rooftop or other terrestrial feature. As noted above, this helps locating it during brighter twilight. Find the landmark and look for the planet.
Lone Saturn is over 30° up in the south and over 40° to the right (west) of Jupiter. Reference its location as you did with Mars.
As the sky brightens look carefully for Mercury and the crescent moon. A binocular may be needed to initially locate them. Then look for the other four bright planets, using the reference points as needed. There they are – the five bright planets in order from the sun, not to be seen like this again until 2100.
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- 2023, December 22: Mercury at Inferior Conjunction, Bright Jupiter, Gibbous MoonDecember 22, 2023: Mercury is between Earth and Sun, known as inferior conjunction. Jupiter and the gibbous moon are celestial companions during nighttime hours.