June 20 – 29, 2022: June 26, 2022: Find the five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – and the moon in the eastern sky before sunrise. They are visible in solar system order.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
In a rare arrangement in the sky, the five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible in solar system order from the sun in the eastern sky before daybreak for about a week during late June 2022. They join dimmer planets, Uranus, Neptune, and the ninth classic planet Pluto.
How to see the planets
To see Mercury and Venus, find a location with a clear horizon toward the east-northeast. Being able to see the natural horizon is an important advantage. Seek a hilltop or elevated structure for the best opportunity to find them.
Set and early alarm and get to your observing spot at least an hour before sunrise. The earlier the better.
At your location, the five planets are along an imaginary diagonal line from the east-northeast to the south. Depending on the morning the planets are sighted, the moon is in the eastern sky.
These articles have charts to show the locations of the moon with the planets on the prime mornings:
- June 20, 2022
- June 21, 2022
- June 22, 2022
- June 23, 2022
- June 24, 2022
- June 25, 2022
- June 26, 2022
- June 27, 2022
- June 28, 2022
- June 29, 2022
At this hour, brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast. Bright Jupiter is about one-third of the way up in the sky above the east-southeast horizon.
Mars and Saturn are dimmer. The Red Planet is to the lower left of Jupiter, about one-fourth of the way from Jupiter to Venus. It is considerably dimmer than the Jovian Giant. Saturn is about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Jupiter in the south-southeast.
It is important to tag the locations of Mars and Saturn with terrestrial features. This may require that you move a little to put Mars and separately Saturn near a tree branch or edge of a building. Returning to these spots help you locate the planets as the sky brightens and Mercury appears. This also helps you explain the locations of the dimmer planets to your observing companions.
By 45 minutes before sunrise, the sky is brighter and the two dimmer planets are fading into twilight. Look for them from your tagging spots.
Begin looking for Mercury, to the lower left of Venus. A binocular helps with the initial sighting, but Venus and Mercury are not in the same field of view.
Aim your binocular so that the horizon is at the bottom of the field of view to the lower left of Venus. Scan the horizon, by moving the binocular left or right slightly. Mercury appears as a star in the upper part of the field. When you see it through the binocular, look for it without the optical assist. Then look for the other four planets, perhaps returning to the tagging locations to see Mars and Saturn.
If Mercury continues to be a challenge to see, look for it on June 27, when the moon is nearby and both are in the same binocular field of view.
By 30 minutes before sunrise, Mars and Saturn are washed out by morning twilight and Jupiter is a challenge to see.
You’ve seen the five planets in order from the sun simultaneously. A rare occurrence that is not easily visible again until 2100. At the 2040 lineup, Mercury sets about 20 minutes after sunset, nearly impossible to view by conventional means.
To the unaided eye, five planets are visible. They look like bright stars. Planets reflect sunlight and their brightness depends on the size of the planetary globe, reflectivity of the planet, and its distance from Earth.
Venus varies in brightness, but it is the brightest “star” in the sky when it appears in the eastern sky before sunrise or in the west after sunset.
Mercury’s brightness varies wildly. It can be brighter than Sirius – the night’s brightest (natural) star – to one that is very faint, almost not visible.
Jupiter is consistently brighter than all the planets, except for Venus. It is always brighter than Sirius.
Saturn is reasonably consistent, but not the brightest planet in the sky. If placed on the brightest stars list, with would vary from the eleventh to thirteen brightest.
Mars is thought to be a bright planet and at times it is. It is sometimes slightly dimmer than Saturn, but it can be brighter than Jupiter. Right now, it slightly brighter than Saturn. During the autumn months this year, the planet’s brightness increases rapidly as our world slowly catches up and passes it. By December, it is brighter than Sirius when it reaches its opposition with the sun. Earth is between the planet and the sun, and Mars is closest to our world.
The other planets in the sun’s family are too dim to be seen without at least a binocular or telescope.
Planet or star
The earliest sky watchers named the constellations. Cultures across the globe saw patterns relevant to their celebrations and traditions. Today, we recognize star names and constellation names from the Middle East and Mediterranean cultures. We could very well call the Pleiades star cluster Subaru – the Japanese name for the stellar bundle. Look closely at the badge on a Subaru automobile, it is an image of the star cluster.
The earliest sky watchers also recognized seven objects – sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – that appeared to move relative to the “fixed stars.” To the Greek sky watchers, these seven worlds were known as the “planetes” – the wanderers or wandering stars.
Clearly the moon is easiest to watch it change is phase and location from night to night and week to week.
For the sun, northern hemisphere sky watchers see it high in the sky during the summer season and low in the winter. The nightly constellations change during the seasons as well.
The other five wanderers change their places compared to the stars that form the background of specific constellations that make a band around the sky – known as the astronomical zodiac, nearly 20 constellations where the moon can appear. The lunar orb can appear farthest from the ecliptic – the apparent path of the sun among the stars and the plane of the solar system, near where the bright planets appear.
Currently, Venus is quickly stepping through Taurus. While they are low in the sky before sunrise at this season, the Bull’s stars are relatively easy to spot. Saturn seems near a star in the tail of Capricornus. Jupiter is in front of Cetus, with no bright stars in the region. Mars is marching eastward in Pisces. The stars are not easily seen during morning twilight. They are fainter, but located in a location not suffering from the permanent twilight from outdoor lighting.
Mercury is a challenging planet to see. It revolves around the sun every eighty-eight days, jumping from the morning sky to the evening sky and back to the morning again every 116 days. In the morning, the planet emerges from bright twilight after it passes between Earth and the sun. It brightens quickly, reaching its farthest west swing from the sun. As it retreats back into sunlight, it continues to brighten, but it is lower in the sky.
The planet’s farthest distance from the sun, measured in angular degrees, changes as well. This year the greatest angle – known as the greatest elongation – varies from 18.0° to 27.3°.
To estimate the size of 20°, extend your arms and make fists. Place the fists so that thumbs and pointer fingers are touching. The distance from pinky finger to pinky finger is about 20°.
The maximum angle depends on the location of the planet in its elliptical orbit. When the planet is near its aphelion – farthest point from the sun – at greatest elongation, the angle is near its largest. The opposite occurs when Mercury is at perihelion – its closest solar point.
All this is complicated by the length of twilight, the angle the ecliptic makes with the horizon, and whether Mercury is above or below that plane.
The result of this is that Mercury has one good morning appearance and a good one during the evening. The rest are iffy at best and require some persistence to see the planet. This year, the best morning appearance occurs during October. The best evening visibility was in April. This June appearance is the most difficult of the three morning appearances to see.
For 2022 during the time of the best visibility, Mercury is bright and rises over 70 minutes before sunrise, but morning twilight starts over 130 minutes before sunrise in Chicago, Illinois. For more northerly latitudes, Mercury rises later and twilight is longer. From locations north of latitude 48.6°, twilight persists all night.
There are times when Mercury is in the sky, but twilight is bright. The planet is visible through a binocular and easily photographed, but it cannot be seen with the unaided eye. At this light levels, Mars and Saturn fade into the bright sky as well. It’s important to get outside to see them and tag their locations with a terrestrial feature before they are lost in twilight.
Five planet factors
The five bright planets are visible in any order during a decade-long window centered on the Great Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn. Visibility of the five planets in any order can occur during those 10 years. For example, during July 2020, five planets were in the morning sky. The order was, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter. The last time the five planets were visible in order was December 2004. Later this year, the five planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars -span over 137° after sunset. During the spring of 2036, the planets span nearly 90°. The order is: Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn.
Outside the window, the Mercury – Saturn gap is too large to see the bright five planets, meaning that Saturn sets before Mercury rises. There are times when the five planets are in the sky during a 24-hour span, but not simultaneously. During November 2026, the five planets are visible in the morning, beginning after midnight, but Saturn sets before Mercury rises. They are not in order as Mars is between Jupiter and Saturn.
During late June 2022, a rare window of opportunity opens to see five planets at the same time. Take a look!
September 15, 2022: Three bright planets – Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter – are strung across the sky after midnight. Before sunrise, look for the moon near Mars.Keep reading
September 14, 2022: Three bright planets and the moon are visible overnight. The moon is near Uranus before daybreak. The Sickle of Leo is in the eastern sky before sunrise.Keep reading
September 13, 2022: Contrary to Internet memes, Mars will not appear as large as the moon when the Red Planet is closest to Earth. Overnight a planet display with Mars, the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn arches across the sky.Keep reading