Category: Sky Watching

2020, July 11: Unusual Surprise in July’s Morning Planet Parade

Comet NEOWISE, July 11, 2020
2020, July 11: Comet NEOWISE shines from low in the northeast sky during early morning twilight. It is to the lower left of the star Capella.

Cosmic interloper Comet NEOWISE Marches in July’s morning planet parade.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Comet NEOWISE joins the morning planet parade again this morning.  The unexpected surprise in the morning sky this year is the comet.  It joins a parade of planets in the pre-sunrise sky.

As the photo indicates, Comet NEOWISE (formally known as Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE) is low in the northeastern sky during early morning twilight.  Find a clear horizon (or a gap in the trees or houses) to see it.  The comet is easy to see without a binocular or telescope, but a binocular assists in finding the location.

The comet is to the lower left of the bright star Capella.

Comets are icy debris, theorized to be left over from the formation of the solar system.  Normally invisible, these frozen icebergs vaporize when they approach the sun, forming the comet’s characteristic tail.

Many comets are observed every year, but infrequently they become bright enough to be seen without a telescope.  Comet NEOWISE is the best visual comet seen from the northern hemisphere since Comet Hale-Bopp that was visible in 1997.

Comet NEOWISE becomes visible higher in the evening sky in a few evenings as well as shining in the morning sky.

Venus and Aldebaran, July 11, 2020
2020, July 11: Brilliant Venus appears 1.0° to the upper left of the star Aldebaran. The Pleiades star cluster appears above Venus.

Meanwhile the planet parade continues from the east-northeast tree line to the southwest skyline.  The current best part of this parade is Venus appearing to move through the Hyades star cluster. The mass of stars, along with Aldebaran, makes a sideways “V” that represents the head of Taurus the Bull.

This morning Venus is 1.0° to the upper left of Aldebaran.  A binocular helps when identifying the changing position of Venus in Taurus.

The moon is in the region on the morning of July 17, grouping with Venus, Aldebaran, and the Hyades.  With the Pleiades nearby, this will be a picturesque view.  Get your camera ready for this spectacular scene!

Mercury joins the planet parade beginning July 19, when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously with the moon, about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Farther west, the gibbous moon is to the right of Mars.  Its brightness, causes an extra image in the photo above.

Mars and the moon in Cetus, July 11, 2020
2020, July 11: Mars is 0.7° to the upper right of dim 14 Ceti) (14 Cet) and 2.7° below 44 Piscium (44 Psc).

Mars is marching eastward in the constellation Cetus, near the dim star 14 Ceti (14 Cet on the photo above) and below 44 Piscium (44 Psc).  Watch it continue to move eastward with a binocular.

Mars is at opposition on October 13, 2020.

Jupiter and Saturn in Sagittarius, July 11, 2020
2020, July 11: Jupiter shines from the southwest. Saturn is 6.6° to Jupiter’s upper left. In the starfield, Jupiter is 3.0° below 56 Sgr. Saturn is 3.6° to the lower right of σ Cap.

Still Farther west, Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southwestern sky.  They are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.  This perceived motion is an illusion as our planet approaches and passes a planet farther from the sun than Earth.  We pass between Jupiter and the sun on July 14 and Saturn 6 days later.

In the image above, note that Jupiter is to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).  If you enlarge the image, you can see at least one of the four largest jovian satellites.

Saturn is to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).

With a binocular watch the planets move away from the star referenced on the image during the next several days.

Jupiter and Saturn reverse their directions in September.  Jupiter inches toward Saturn, passing it on December 21, 2020 in a Great Conjunction.  This once-in-a-generation conjunction is the closest since the Jupiter – Saturn conjunction of 1623.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 9: Comet NEOWISE, Moon Join July Planet Parade

Comet NEOWISE, July 9, 2020
2020, July 9: Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE appears low in the northeast sky before sunrise.

Click here for the view on July 11.

Comet NEOWISE joins the gibbous moon and four bright planets in the July morning sky. 

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Comet NEOWISE (formally known as Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE) is moving away from the sun and vaporizing in the bright sunlight.  The debris is pushed away from the sun, forming a comet’s famous tail.  The comet is in the morning sky for a few more days, then moves into the western sky after sunset.

In the planet parade, about an hour before sunrise, the bright gibbous moon appears in the south.

Jupiter and Saturn, July 9, 2020
2020, July 9: Jupiter and Saturn, 6.5° apart are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius. This morning Jupiter is 2.8° below 56 Sgr. Saturn is 3.5° to the lower right of σ Cap. The photo shows Ganymede and Europa to the upper left of Jupiter and Io to the lower right of the planet.

Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.  This morning they are 6.5° apart.  As they retrograde, the gap gets larger.  With a binocular watch Jupiter move away from 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the photo) and Saturn extend its separation from Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).  In September, these giant planets reverse their apparent direction and Jupiter passes Saturn for a Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.

(If you expand the image above, three of Jupiter’s largest moons are visible is tiny points of light.  Ganymede and Europa are to the upper left, while Io is to the lower right of Jupiter.)

Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun (opposition) on July 14 and Saturn six days later.  This planetary pair can be found in the southeast about 2 hours after sunset, when they have moved above the trees and other terrestrial obstacles.

Mars in Cetus, July 9, 2020
2020, July 9: Mars is nearly 42° up in the southeast, 0.7° to the lower left of 10 Ceti (10 Cet).

Meanwhile, Mars is moving eastward in the constellation Cetus.  The Red Planet moved into this constellation yesterday and stays there for 19 days before it moves back into Pisces.

This morning it is near 10 Ceti (10 Cet) in the starfield.  With a binocular watch Mars move away from this dimmer star.

Being farther eastward, Earth passes between Mars and the sun on October 13, 2020.

Venus in Taurus, July 9, 2020.
2020, July 9: Brilliant Venus is among the stars of the Hyades star cluster, 1.6° to the upper right of Aldebaran. The Pleiades star cluster appears higher in the sky.

Venus is in the northeast among the stars of Taurus the Bull as it appears to be moving through the Hyades star cluster.  The cluster and the star Aldebaran make the sideways “V” of the head of the Bull.  This morning the brilliant planet appears 1.6° to the upper right of Aldebaran.  With a binocular watch the planet move closer to the star during the next few mornings.

Get your cameras ready for July 17, when the moon groups with Venus and Aldebaran.  With the Hyades star cluster and Pleiades star cluster, this will be a picturesque view.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously with the moon, at about 45 minutes before sunrise.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 7: Bright Moon in a July Planet Parade

Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter, July 7, 2020
2020, July 7: The bright gibbous is over 13° to the left of Saturn. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.4°. The planets are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.

Click here for the July 9, 2020 view.

At about one hour before sunrise four bright planets and the gibbous moon parade across the July morning sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Morning Star Venus, Mars, Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter stretch across the sky from the east-northeast tree line to the southwest skyline this morning before sunrise.

Over an hour before sunrise, as shown in the image above, the bright gibbous moon, that is over 95% illuminated, is about 13° from Saturn.  Compare the moon’s position with Jupiter and Saturn in yesterday’s location.

Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in front of the stars of eastern Sagittarius.  This illusion makes the planets appear to move westward compared to the stars.  This occurs when our faster moving planet approaches and passes the planets farther away from the sun than Earth.

Earth moves between Jupiter and the sun in a week (July 14) and Saturn six days later.  This is known as opposition.

The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.4° and widening.  Jupiter moves faster than Saturn.

Retrograde motion for this planetary pair continues until September. Jupiter moves eastward and passes Saturn on December 21, 2020, in a Great Conjunction.

Use a binocular to see Jupiter and Saturn in the starfield.  This morning Jupiter is 2.7° to the lower right of 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the photo above), while Saturn is 3.4° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).

Mars in Pisces, July 7, 2020
2020, July 7: Mars is at the Pisces – Cetus border, 2.9° to the lower right of 44 Psc, 1.0° to the lower right of 10 Cet, and 2.8° to the upper right of 14 Cet.

Farther east in the southeastern sky, Mars is marching eastward – a planet’s normal motion – in the stars of Pisces, near the Pisces-Cetus border.  The planet is about halfway up in the sky in the southeast.  It is the brightest “star” in the region.

The stellar background in this region is dim and more difficult to see with the bright moon nearby. 

This morning the Red Planet is 2.9° to the lower right of 44 Piscium (44 Psc), 1.0° to the lower right of 10 Ceti (10 Cet), and 2.8° to the upper right of 14 Ceti (14 Cet). 

Tomorrow Mars moves into Cetus.  Look it is position compared to the dim starry background with a binocular.

Mars continues to move eastward compared to the stars until early September when it begins to move in a retrograde direction.  Mars is at opposition on October 13.

Venus in Taurus, July 7, 2020
2020, July 7: Venus is part of a line that starts at Aldebaran and ends at δ1 Tau. It is 0.6° to the lower left of δ2 Tau.

At about an hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus, low in the east-northeast, is moving through the Hyades star cluster in Taurus.  The Hyades and Aldebaran form the sideways “V” that outlines the head of the Bull.

This morning Venus is part of a line that starts at Aldebaran and ends at Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau). The planet is 0.6° to the lower left of Delta2 Tauri (δ2 Tau).  Look with a binocular tomorrow morning when Venus is in the middle of the “V.”

Get your cameras ready for July 17, when the moon groups with Venus and Aldebaran.  With the Hyades star cluster and Pleiades star cluster, this will be a picturesque view.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously with the moon, at about 45 minutes before sunrise.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

Moon, Saturn, Jupiter in southeast, July 7, 2020
2020, July 7: As midnight approaches, the July planet parade begins. The moon is low in the southeast with Saturn and Jupiter to its upper right.

The planet parade begins this evening when Jupiter and Saturn are above the skyline about two hours after sunset.  As midnight approaches, the gibbous moon is low in the southeast.

Tomorrow, Mars is above the east horizon by 1:30 a.m. with the moon, Saturn, and Jupiter farther west.

By an hour before sunrise, Venus enters the scene in the east-northeast with Mars in the southeast, the moon in the south, and Jupiter and Saturn toward the southwest.

 

2020, July 6: Moon and Morning Planet Parade

2020, July 6: The bright moon is 3.2° to the lower left of Saturn and 6.4° to the left of bright Jupiter. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.3°.
2020, July 6: The bright moon is 3.2° to the lower left of Saturn and 6.4° to the left of bright Jupiter. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.3°.

Click here for the moon and planets on July 7, 2020.

The moon marches with Jupiter and Saturn in this morning’s planet parade.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

The bright moon appears with Jupiter and Saturn in the south-southwest this morning.  It is 3.2° to the lower left of Saturn and 6.4° to the left of bright Jupiter. 

The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.3°.  This separation continues to widen as the planets retrograde in eastern Sagittarius.  The reverse direction continues until September. Jupiter passes Saturn on December 21, 2020 in a Great Conjunction.

Mars in Pisces, July 6, 2020.
2020, July 6: Mars, marching eastward in Pisces, is 3.1° to the lower right of 44 Piscium (44 Psc).

Mars, near the Pisces – Cetus border, is the lone bright “star” in the southeast.  It is marching eastward among the stars of Pisces.  Notice its proximity to 10 Ceti (10 Cet on the photo) and 44 Piscium (44 Psc). Follow the movement of Mars each morning with a binocular.

Venus in Taurus, July 6, 2020.
2020, July 6: Venus appears inside the “V” of Taurus, 0.5° below Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau) and 2.7° to the upper right of Aldebaran.

Venus is the end of the parade as it appears low in the east-northeast among the stars of Taurus.  The planet appears to be moving in front of the Hyades star cluster.  This morning it is inside the sideways “V” that outlines the Bull’s head.

Venus is 2.7° to the upper right of Aldebaran and 0.5° below Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau).  On the morning of July 8, Venus appears in the middle of the cluster.  Use a binocular to track Venus in the stars.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon, at about 45 minutes before sunrise.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 6: The planet parade organizes in the southeastern sky as midnight approaches.  The moon is over 11° to the lower left of Saturn.
2020, July 6: The planet parade organizes in the southeastern sky as midnight approaches. The moon is over 11° to the lower left of Saturn.

The planet parade begins again this evening when Jupiter appears low in the eastern sky about two hours after sunset.  The moon is farther east in its monthly travels.  It appears to the lower left of Saturn as midnight approaches.

Mars appears above the eastern tree line at about 1:30 a.m.

By an hour before sunrise tomorrow morning, the four planets and the moon are marching across the sky.

2020, July 5: Bright Moon Leads Morning Planet Parade

Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, July 5, 2020
2020, July 5: The nearly full moon appears over 8° to the lower right of Jupiter. The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.2°.

The moon leads Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus westward in July’s morning planet parade.

Click here for the planets and moon on July 6, 2020.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

The bright moon appears in the southwest with Jupiter and Saturn this morning (July 5).  The moon (overexposed in the image and a behind tree) is over 8° to the lower right of Jupiter.  Dimmer Saturn is to Jupiter’s upper left.  Jupiter passes Saturn on December 21, 2020 in a Great Conjunction.

Mars, July 5, 2020.
2020, July 5: Mars appears in the southeast near the Pisces-Cetus border.

The third planet member of the parade is Mars, appearing about halfway up in the sky in the southeast.

Venus in east-northeast, July 5, 2020.
2020, July 5: Bright Venus appears low in the east-northeast among the stars of Taurus. It is 3.1° to the upper right of the star Aldebaran.

As morning twilight continues, brilliant Venus appears above the east-northeast horizon, 3.1° to the upper right of Aldebaran. With a binocular observe that it is moving through the Hyades star cluster.

This parade continues throughout July, but later in the month without the moon.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon at about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, July 5, 2020.
2020, July 5: The moon, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible low in the southeast about 2 hours after sunset. Jupiter is 4.4° to the upper right of the moon, while Saturn is 4.2° to the upper left of the lunar orb.

This evening, July 5, 2020, look for the moon to the lower left of Jupiter and to the right of Saturn about 2 hours after sunset.

By 1:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, Mars is visible in the east.

As sunrise approaches tomorrow morning, Venus appears in the east-northeast again with the other three bright planets in about the same place where they were this morning.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 4: An Independence Day Planet Parade

 

Jupiter and Saturn, July 4, 2020
2020, July 4: Jupiter 2.3° below 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr), while Saturn is 3.2° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap)

Click here for the view on July 5, 2020

The moon leads a July morning planetary parade of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus. 

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

As the moon sets in the west, four bright planets march in their planetary parade across the sky from the southwest horizon to the east-northeast skyline this morning (July 4, 2020).

One hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter and Saturn shine from the southwest this morning.  In the photo above the setting moon illuminates a thin cloud veil.  At this time Mars is in the southeast sky, while brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast. (See the details and photos below for their positions relative to the background stars.)  For the next several days, stand in an open area to view the four planets simultaneously as morning twilight progresses.  The best views occur 1 hour before sunrise to 35 minutes before sunrise.

The parade begins each evening with Jupiter and Saturn appearing low in the eastern sky about two hours after sunset.  By 1:30 a.m. Mars enters the sky low in the east.  As the nighttime hours continue the planet trio moves westward.  Venus then rises during brighter morning twilight.

On July 4, the full moon rises before Jupiter.  It appears to the upper right of Jupiter. Tomorrow morning (July 5) the moon is in the southwest with Jupiter and Saturn.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon at about 45 minutes before sunrise.

To our eyes, the planets appear as overly bright stars.

Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.  Compared to the starry background, they are moving westward.  This morning Saturn is 3.2° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap on the photo), while Jupiter is 2.3° below 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).  The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.2° that widens as the planets retrograde.

Retrograde motion is an illusion as our planet catches and passes a planet farther from the sun than Earth.  As we approach, the planet stops moving eastward compared to the starry background and appears to move westward.  Earth passes between the planet and the sun (opposition) and revolves away from the planet.  After a spell the planet resumes its eastward motion.

Retrograde motion is not to be confused with the daily rising and setting of the sun, moon, stars, and planets from Earth’s rotation.  We see the planets rise in the east and set in the west, but their positions compared to the stars changes each night. Watch the moon appear eastward each morning from its previous position until it appears with Venus on July 17.

Jupiter is at opposition on July 20, while Saturn is there six days later. The planets continue to retrograde until September.  When they resume their eastward motion relative to the stars, Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn in a once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.  This is the closest conjunction of the planets since 1623.

On their opposition nights, these giant planets rise in the eastern sky when the sun sets.  Around 1 a.m. (midnight during standard time) they are in the south.  They set in the west as the sun rises.

 

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In this sequence of four images notice the changing position of Jupiter and Saturn.

Because of the moon’s bright glare, use a binocular to see the planets with their background stars.

Mars in Pisces, July 4, 2020.
2020, July 4: Mars is 4.2° to the left of 29 Piscium (29 Psc).

Mars is in the southeast among the dim stars of Pisces.  It continues to march eastward compared to the stars.  This morning it is 4.2° from 29 Piscium (29 Psc).

Mars begins to retrograde in September and passes its opposition on October 13, 2020.

 

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In this sequence of four images notice the changing position of Mars.

 

Venus in Taurus, July 4, 2020.
Nearly 11° in altitude in the east-northeast, Venus is 3.4° to the upper right of α Tau and 0.4° to the right of δ1 Tau.

The obvious display of planetary motion occurs in the east-northeast as Venus moves through the Hyades, a star cluster along with the star Aldebaran that forms the head of Taurus the Bull.  The head resembles a letter “V” tipped on its side. This morning Venus is 0.4° to the right of Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau) and 3.4° to the upper right of Aldebaran.  The best morning is likely July 8 when Venus appears in the center of the Hyades star cluster.  Because of the brightening sky, use a binocular to track Venus through the cluster.

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In this sequence of four images notice the changing position of Venus.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 17: Wonderful View of Morning Star Venus, Crescent Moon, Stars

Venus and the moon, July 17, 2020
2020, July 17: The moon appears 3.2° from Venus. The brilliant planet is 3.2° from Aldebaran.

July 17, 2020:  Venus and the moon make picturesque scene before sunrise.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Artists and photographers are attracted to the best grouping of the moon and this appearance of Venus on July Continue reading “2020, July 17: Wonderful View of Morning Star Venus, Crescent Moon, Stars”

2020, July 3: The Morning Planet Parade Marches On

Venus and Aldebaran with the Hyades and Pleiades, July 3, 2020
2020, July 3: Venus is 0.6° to the upper right of Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau) and 3.7° to the upper right of Aldebaran.

Four bright planets parade across the July morning sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn stretch across the sky during morning twilight.

Brilliant Venus puts on a display low in the east-northeast sky as it approaches the Hyades star cluster in the constellation Taurus.  In the image above notice that the planet is 0.6° to the upper right of the star named Delta 1 Tauri (δ1 Tau on the photo).

Look each morning at the same time to see Venus higher in the sky and farther into the cluster.  The best morning is July 8, when Venus is in the middle of the cluster.

Follow the progress of Venus among the stars with a binocular.

At the same time, Venus is 3.7° to the upper right of the brighter star Aldebaran.

Mars in Pisces, July 3, 2020.
2020, July 3: Mars appears 3.6° from 29 Piscium (29 Psc) as it continues to march eastward in southern Pisces.

Mars is in the southeast, moving eastward in Pisces.  It is 3.6° from 29 Piscium (29 Psc).  Each morning the planet moves farther from that star.  Use a binocular to see Mars with the background stars.

Beginning in early September, Mars stops moving eastward compared to the starry background and begins moving westward compared to the stars (retrograde motion).  This occurs when our faster moving planet approaches and moves past the slower moving outer planets.

On October 13, Earth moves between Mars and the sun.  Known as opposition, the sun and Mars appear at opposite parts of the sky. At opposition, Mars rises in the eastern sky, when the sun sets in the western sky. The planet is in the south at midnight and sets in the west when the sun rises in the east.

Around opposition Mars is closest to our planet.  Because Mars’ orbit is more elongated, the “closest approach” occurs a few days before or after opposition.  This year, Earth and Mars are closest a week before opposition.

Jupiter and Saturn, July 3, 2020
2020, July 3: Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest during early morning twilight. Jupiter is 2.2° below 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr) while Saturn is 3.1° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).

Meanwhile, Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in the south-southwest.  Saturn is 3.1° to the lower right of the star Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap), while Jupiter is 2.2° below the star 56 Sagittarii (56 Sag).

Jupiter is at opposition on July 14, followed by Saturn 6 days later.  The planets continue to retrograde until September.  When they resume their eastward motion relative to the stars, Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn in a once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.  This is the closest conjunction of the planets since 1623.

Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the evening sky about 2 hours after sunset, in the east-southeast.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 2: A July Morning Planet Parade

Venus is near the Hyades, July 2, 2020.
2020, July 2: Venus shines from the east-northeast during morning twilight. It is 0.9° to the upper right of δ1 Tauri.

Four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – parade across July’s morning sky.

 

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

A mostly cloud-free sky prevailed before sunrise, when four bright planets stretched across the sky from the east-northeast tree line to the southwest skyline.

Brilliant Venus – the fourth planet in the morning planet parade – shines from low in the east-northeast this morning during twilight.  The planet is near the Hyades star cluster in the constellation Taurus.  During the next two weeks the planet appears to move through the cluster.  While not visible without a binocular and in a time exposure, the stars of the cluster are identified.

Venus is 0.9° to the upper right of Delta1 Tauri (δ1 Tau) on the photo above.  Theta1 Tauri (θ1 Tau) and Theta2 Tauri (θ2 Tau) are identified as well.  The bright star Aldebaran is still below the tree line at the time of the photograph.

The parade of planets begins when Jupiter rises in the east-southeast about 40 minutes after sunset, followed by Saturn about 20 minutes later.  By two hours after sunset, they are low in the southeast.

As midnight approaches, the giant planet pair is in the south-southeast.  By 1:30 a.m. CDT, Mars is low in the east.  The nights are still short during July as twilight begins over two hours before sunrise. 

By one hour before sunrise, Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest, followed by Mars.  Venus joins the morning planet parade as it rises two hours before sunrise, gleaming brightly in the east-northeast as twilight is in progress.  At that time, the morning planet quartet stretches across the morning sky.

Mars is in Pisces near 29 Piscium, July 2, 2020.
2020: July 2: Mars is in Pisces. Notice its position compared to 29 Piscium. Next week it moves into Cetus and passes near 20 Ceti and 14 Ceti.

Mars shines from among the stars in southern Pisces.  Note the position of Mars compared to 29 Piscium (29 Psc) compared to where it was a few days ago.  Mars continues its eastward march compared to the starry background.  On July 8, Mars moves into Cetus for 19 days.  Then it moves back into Pisces. 

With a binocular watch Mars move near two dimmer stars in Cetus, 14 Ceti (14 Cet) and 20 Ceti (20 Cet).

Meanwhile, the parade leaders, Jupiter and Saturn, are in the southwest.  Jupiter is in front of the stars of eastern Sagittarius.  Saturn is in the stars of western Capricornus.

Jupiter and Saturn, July 2, 2020.
2020: July 2: Jupiter and Saturn appear in the southwest during early morning twilight. Jupiter is 2.1° below 56 Sgr, while Saturn is 3.0° from σ Cap.

Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding, an illusion as our planet approaches and passes them.  Normally, the planets appear to move eastward compared to the stars, like what we see currently with Mars.

Earth passes Jupiter on July 14 and Saturn 6 days later.  This is known as opposition. The planet and the sun appear in opposite places in the sky and they seem to do the opposite actions of the other. 

When the sun sets, the planet rises.  At midnight (1 a.m. during daylight time), the planet is in the south, when the sun is in the south at noon (1 p.m. during daylight time).  The planet sets in the western sky when the sun rises in the east.

Mars begins to retrograde in September and is at opposition on October 13, 2020.

As Jupiter and Saturn retrograde they appear to separate.  This morning the gap is 6.1°.

In a few mornings Saturn moves westward into Sagittarius.  With a binocular, watch its westward progress compared to Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).  This morning Saturn is 3.0° from the star.  Jupiter is 2.1° below the star 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr).

During September Jupiter and Saturn resume their normal eastward motion compared to the stars.  Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn in a once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.  This is the closest conjunction of the planets since 1623.

An hour before sunrise, stand in an open area to trace the plane of the solar system across the sky from Venus to Jupiter.

Mercury joins the parade beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.

2020, July 1: A Quartet of Bright Morning Planets

Venus in the east-northeast, July 1, 2020
2020, July 1: Venus shines from low in the east-northeastern sky. No stars this morning because of an overcast sky.

July mornings open with four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – that stretch across the sky from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – dot the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system, during early morning twilight this morning.  Today’s sky was slightly overcast, yet, the bright planets’ light poked through the clouds.  This morning’s images do not show any background stars.

Venus is above the Hyades star cluster.  During the next several mornings, Venus appears to move through the group.  The best morning is likely July 8, when the brilliant planet is in the middle of the cluster.  Through a small telescope, Venus shows a tiny crescent that resembles the moon.

Mars is in the southeast, nearly halfway up in the sky from the horizon to overhead (zenith).  The planet is marching eastward among the stars of western Pisces.

Mars in southeast, July 1, 2020
2020, July 1: Mars continues moving eastward among the stars of western Pisces in the southeast sky. No stars this morning for an overcast sky.

Mars is at opposition on October 13, 2020, in eastern Pisces.  The planet remains in the constellation for the remainder of the calendar year.  On clear mornings, use a binocular to notice that it is farther eastward (to the left) compared to the starry background than the previous mornings. No stars are visible in the accompanying image of Mars this morning for the clouds.

Jupiter and Saturn, July 1, 2020
2020, July 1: The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.0° as the planetary pair retrogrades in eastern Sagittarius. No stars this morning for an overcast sky.

Giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the south-southwest during early morning twilight.  They shine from eastern Sagittarius, where they are retrograding and separating.  The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 6.0° this morning.

The planets beyond Earth’s orbit appear to stop moving eastward compared to the starry background as we approach and pass between them and the sun (opposition). For a time, the planets then seem to backup or retrograde.  Earth moves between Jupiter and the sun on July 14, while we pass Saturn 6 days later. 

At these times, the outer planets rise in the east as the sun sets in the west, appear in the south at midnight (1 a.m. during daylight time), and set in the west at sunrise.  They are opposite the sun

Jupiter and Saturn begin to move eastward again in September.  Jupiter then slowly overtakes and passes Saturn in a once-in-a-generation Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.  This year’s conjunction is the closest since 1623.

An hour before sunrise, stand in an open area to trace the plane of the solar system across the sky from Venus to Jupiter.

Mercury joins the scene beginning July 19 when the “Classic 9” planets are in the sky simultaneously along with the moon.

For more about the planets see this article about where to find them during July.