Tag: Planets

2020, June 28: A Morning Planet Feast

Venus in Taurus, June 28, 2020
2020, June 28: Brilliant Venus shines from low in the east-northeast among the stars of Taurus during morning twilight. The Pleiades appear above the planet.

Four bright planets shine from horizon to horizon during pre-sunrise hours.  Three telescopic planets are in the sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Four bright planets shine in a morning planetary feast from the east-northeast horizon to the southwest skyline during the pre-sunrise hours.

Starting with brilliant Venus, about one hour before sunrise, the planet is low in the east-northeast.  In this bright sky, it is among the stars of Taurus.  The Pleiades star cluster (circled in the image above), shines above the planet.

Tomorrow and for 18 following days, Venus is at its interval of greatest brightness.

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Higher in the sky, in the southeast, Mars shines from among the stars of Pisces.  It is 0.7° to the lower left of 29 Piscium.  Mars is moving eastward compared to the starry background. Compare this morning’s position to its location in the two-picture slide show above.

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Farther west, Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.  Jupiter and Saturn are moving backwards compared to the starry background. After they reverse their direction in September, Jupiter passes Saturn in a Great Conjunction.  These groupings occur every 19.6 years.

 This illusion occurs as Earth approaches and passes these planets nearly every year. 

The Jupiter – Saturn gap is 5.9°.  In the starfield, Jupiter is 1.9° below 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the image), while Saturn is 2.8° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).  While Jupiter and Saturn move against the starry background more slowly than Mars, the two-image slide show above reveals their changing positions.

Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun on July 14, Saturn and the sun on July 20, and Mars and our central star on October 13.  This is known as opposition.  At this time the planets rise in the eastern sky at sunset, appear in the south at midnight (at 1 a.m. during Daylight Time), and set at sunrise.

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are in the morning sky as well.  For those observers with binoculars or telescopes.  Uranus is in Aries, 1.2° to the right of 29 Arietis. The planet is nearly 40° to the lower left of Mars.  Dimmer Neptune, 9.4° to the upper right of Mars, is among very dim stars of eastern Aquarius.  It is 3.5° to the left of Phi Aquarii.  Pluto is near Jupiter.  A moderate aperture, approximately 10-inch mirror and larger, is needed to see this very dim world.  It is best seen about 2 a.m. when it is in the south.  At this time it is 0.7° below 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 the articles about where to find them during June and July.

2020, June 25: Bright Stars, Morning Planets

Vega and Lyra, June 25, 2020
2020, June 25: Venus and Lyra appear high in the west as morning twilight begins.

Several bright stars and a quartet of morning planets shine from the pre-sunrise sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

The Summer Triangle – Vega, Altair and Deneb – shine from overhead this morning.  This stellar trio belongs to their own constellations – Lyra, Aquila, and Cygnus, respectively.

During early summer evenings the triangle begins the nights low in the eastern sky as the sky darkens after sunset.  Because darkness – the time between the end of evening twilight and the beginning of morning twilight – lasts only about 4.5 hours at the northern mid-latitudes, the stars only make it to overhead before the glow of the anticipated sunrise begins.

Lyra is a relatively small constellation.  Its bright stars appear as a parallelogram attached to a triangle that includes Vega.

Jupiter and Saturn, June 25, 2020
2020, June 25: Jupiter is 5.7° to the lower right of Saturn and 1.7° below 56 Sgr. Saturn is 2.6° to the lower right of σ Cap.

Bright Jupiter and Saturn are lower in the south-southwestern sky in eastern Sagittarius.  Faster moving Jupiter overtakes and passes the slower moving Saturn once every 19.6 years.  This once-in-a-generation event is known as a Great Conjunction.  This year’s occurs on December 21.  This is the closest conjunction of the two planets since 1623

As the planets revolve around the sun, they move eastward compared to the stars. As our planet revolves around the sun, the motion of the planets in the sky reflects the combined movements of that planet and Earth.  As we overtake and pass Jupiter and Saturn nearly every year, they seem to stop moving eastward compared to the stars and go backwards.

This retrograde motion was difficult to explain for the early astronomers, and the description was more difficult when our planet was placed at the center of the universe without motion.  After the invention of the telescope and the earth’s revolution around the sun was confirmed, astronomers clearly understood this was an illusion of our faster moving planet overtaking and passing the outer planets.

On July 14, Earth passes between the sun and Jupiter.  Earth passes Saturn six days later.  This is known as opposition.  The planets appear opposite the sun in the sky.  They rise in the east when the sun sets in the west.  They are in the south near midnight, while the sun is there near noon.  Finally, they set in the west as the sun rises in the eastern sky.

Jupiter and Saturn have been retrograding since May and continue into September.

This morning Jupiter and Saturn are 5.7° apart.  Until retrograde ends, the gap grows.  You can watch them separate and move westward compared to the starry background.  Use a binocular to locate 56 Sagittarii (56 Sgr on the image) and Sigma Capricorni (σ Cap).  On the next several mornings, Jupiter and Saturn are near this morning’s locations, but a farther west (right) compared to the stars.  This morning Jupiter is 1.7° below its reference star.  Saturn is 2.6° to the lower right of σ Cap.

Mars in Pisces, June 25, 2020
2020, June 25: Mars, in the southeastern sky, is 0.2° to the upper right of 27 Psc.

In the southeast, Mars is moving eastward compared to the stars. It moves faster than Jupiter and Saturn.  Observing its changing position is easy.  This morning it moved into Pisces.  The constellation is without bright stars, so a binocular is handy when observing the motion of the planet.  It is difficult to visualize two fish connected by a string in these faint stars.

Mars is 0.2° to the upper right of 27 Piscium (27 Psc).  Watch it pass the star and move toward 29 Piscium (29 Psc) during the next few mornings.

Mars stops moving eastward on September 9 and begins to retrograde. The Red Planet is at opposition on October 13, 2020.

Venus in east-northeast, June 25, 2020
2020, June 25: Venus appears above the trees in the the east-northeast, about 45 minutes before sunrise.

As the sky brightens as sunrise approaches, Venus rises in the east-northeastern sky.  It is visible during bright twilight.  In the image above, Venus is clearing the trees about 45 minutes before sunrise.

The five bright planets and the crescent moon appear together on the morning of July 19.

Here’s more about the planets during June.

2020, June 24: Four Bright Morning Planets

Jupiter and Saturn, June 24, 2020
2020, June 24: Jupiter is 5.7° to the lower right of Saturn. Jupiter begins to pass 56 Sagittarii. When the image is magnified, two of Jupiter’s moons are visible.

Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter are visible during late June mornings.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Bright Jupiter and Saturn shine from the south-southwest this morning during early twilight.  The Giant Planet is 5.7° to the lower right of Saturn.  During the next few mornings use a binocular to observe the dimmer star 56 Sagittarii, 56 Sgr on the image above.  Jupiter slowly inches past the star as it retrogrades.

By magnifying the image above, two of Jupiter’s moons are visible, Callisto – to the lower right – and Ganymede – to the upper left.

Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding as our planet approaches them.  This is an illusion from our perspective. During retrograde planets seem to move westward compared to the starry background. These bright outer planets retrograde until September.

Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun on July 14.  This is known as opposition.  The sun and Jupiter are on opposite sides of Earth.  Saturn is at opposition six days later.

When at opposition, a planet can be tracked across the sky all night.  The planet rises in the eastern sky as the sun sets.  It appears in the south during the midnight hour, and sets in the western sky at sunrise.  Jupiter and Saturn can now be found in the eastern sky later in the evening.

When Jupiter and Saturn resume their direct motion – moving eastward compared to the stars – Jupiter overtakes Saturn in a Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.  This occurs every 19.6 years.  This year’s conjunction is the closest since 1623.

Mars in eastern Aquarius, June 24, 2020
2020, June 24: Mars, in the southeast and in eastern Aquarius, is near the star 27 Piscium. Tomorrow, Mars moves into Pisces

Meanwhile in the southeast, Mars continues its eastward march against the stars. The planet is front of the stars of eastern Aquarius, near the star named 27 Piscium, 27 Psc on the image above.  Use a binocular each morning to watch Mars move past the star and other nearby stars.  Tomorrow it moves into Pisces.

Mars is at opposition on October 13, 2020.

Venus, 25 minutes before sunrise, June 24, 2020
2020, June 24: Brilliant Venus is visible in the east-northeast about 25 minutes before sunrise.

As the sky brightens as sunrise approaches, Venus rises in the northeastern sky.  It is visible during bright twilight.  In the image above, Venus is visible about 25 minutes before sunrise.

The five bright planets and the crescent moon appear together on the morning of July 19.

Here’s more about the planets during June.

2020, June 22: A Quartet of Bright Morning Planets.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, June 22, 2020
2020, June 22: Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars arch across the southern sky before sunrise. The Jupiter Saturn gap is 5.6°. Mars is 62° from Jupiter.

A quartet of bright morning planets shines in the June morning sky.  Mars continues to open a gap with Jupiter and Saturn.  Brilliant Venus sparkles from low in the sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

This morning bright Jupiter is low in the south-southwest.  Saturn is 5.6° to the upper left of Jupiter.  The planetary pair is retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.

Retrograde motion is an illusion that occurs when our faster moving Earth approaches, moves past, and recedes from slower moving objects that are farther away from the sun than Earth. 

Earth passes between the sun and Jupiter (opposition) on July 14 and Saturn on July 20.  When outer planets are at opposition they rise in the eastern sky at sunset, appear in the south during the midnight hours, and set in the west at sunrise.

During September the planets begin their normal eastward motion compared to the stars.  Jupiter overtakes and passes Saturn on December 21, 2020 in a Great Conjunction that occurs once every 19.6 years.

Mars is farther eastward, nearly 62° from Jupiter.  Mars begins to retrograde on September 9, and appears at opposition on October 13, 2020.  It continues to march eastward compared to the starry background.

Even without the clouds this morning, Mars is in a region of very dim stars in eastern Aquarius.

Venus in east-northeast, June 22, 2020
2020, June 22: Venus appears low in the east-northeast about 30 minutes before sunrise.

Venus is beginning its morning appearance. It appears low in the east-northeast before sunrise.  The planet is rising over four minutes earlier each morning, 84 minutes before sunrise this morning.

The five bright planets and the crescent moon appear together on the morning of July 19.

Here’s more about the planets during June.

2020, June 19: Crescent Moon, Venus Conjunction, Morning Planets

Venus and the crescent moon, June 19, 2020
2020, June 19: The moon is 1.0° to the lower left Venus during early morning twilight.

Venus and the crescent moon appear together.  Venus joins Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter in the morning sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Venus and the crescent moon appear together in the east-northeastern sky this morning during early morning twilight.  The old moon, 27.8 days past the New phase, is only 4% illuminated.  It makes its closest grouping with Venus during this appearance of the brilliant planet. 

Crescent moon and Venus, June 19, 2020
2020, June 19: A close-up in the Venus – Moon conjunction. The moon is 1.0° to the lower left Venus.

Venus continues to climb into the morning sky, appearing in the eastern sky before sunrise for the rest of the year.

Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter before sunrise, June 19, 2020
2020, June 19: Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter appear in the southern sky. Mars is 58° from Jupiter. Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding. They are 5.4° apart.

Earlier, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter appeared in the southern sky. Mars, over one-third of the way up in the sky in the southeast, is marching eastward compared to the stars, opening a larger gap with Jupiter and Saturn.  This morning that gap is over 58°.

Jupiter and Saturn appear in the south-southwest.  Their separation is 5.4°.  Both planets are retrograding as Earth is nearly between them and the sun.  Nearly each year, our faster moving planet moves between the sun and this outer planet pair.  For a time before and after Earth’s movement between them and the sun (opposition), they seem to backup compared to the starry background.  The planets’ normal movement is eastward compared to the stars.

For Jupiter, this year’s opposition is July 14.  Saturn’s opposition is July 20.  Mars’ opposition is October 13.  It begins to retrograde in early September.  

While the sun, moon, stars, and planets, rise in the east and set in the west, the planets move eastward compared to the stars.  Jupiter and Saturn continue to retrograde until September.  After Jupiter and Saturn begin their forward (direct) motion, Jupiter overtakes Saturn in a Great Conjunction that occurs once every 19.6 years.

Next month, Mercury enters the morning sky.  On July 19, the five bright planets and the crescent moon appear in the morning sky.

Follow the planets in the sky during June.

2020, June 18: Crescent Moon, Venus, and Bright Outer Planets

Crescent Moon and Venus
2020, June 18: The crescent moon and brilliant Venus appear in the sky during twilight. The moon is 12° to the upper right of the Morning Star.

The crescent moon and Venus appear in the eastern sky, while Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter gleam in the southern sky before sunrise.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

One day before their spectacular grouping, Venus and the crescent moon – 26.8 days past its New phase and only 8% illuminated – shines from the eastern sky about 35 minutes before sunrise.  The lunar crescent is about 12° to the upper right of the brilliant planet. While easy to locate, find a clear eastern horizon to see the bright morning planet.

Venus is on a rapid, steep climb into the morning sky.  It rises about 4 minutes earlier each day.

Through a binocular or small telescope, Venus shows a tiny crescent with about the same illumination as the moon

Tomorrow the moon is only 1.0° from the planet.  This is the closest grouping during this morning appearance of Venus.

For more about Venus as a morning star during 2020, read this article.

On July 19, the five-naked eye planets (Mercury – Saturn) appear in the sky with the crescent moon.

Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, June 18, 2020
2020, June 18: The three Bright Outer Planets – Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter – appear in the southern sky. Jupiter is 5.4° to the lower right of Saturn. Mars is farther east, over 58° from Jupiter.

Earlier this morning – an hour before sunrise – and farther westward, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter are in the southern sky.  Bright Jupiter is about one-third of the way up in the sky in the south-southwest.  Dimmer Saturn is 5.4° to the Giant Planet’s upper left.

Jupiter and Saturn are retrograding as Earth is nearing the planets.  On July 14, Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun (opposition).  Earth passes between Saturn and the sun six days later.  When near opposition, the planets seem to move westward compared to the starry background.  The planets retrograde and separate in the sky.  After they reverse their direction and move eastward again, Jupiter closes in and passes Saturn in a spectacular Great Conjunction during the early evening hours of December 21, 2020.

Such events occur every 19.6 years, about once every generation. This conjunction is the closest of the two planets since 1623.

Mars is marching eastward compared to the stars.  The planet is in the southeast, over 58° to the upper left of Jupiter.  The gap continues to open with Jupiter.  Mars is at opposition on October 13, 2020.

When a planet is at opposition, it rises at sunset, appears in the south during the midnight hours and sets in the west at sunrise.

Follow the planets in the sky during June.

2020, June 16: The Crescent Moon, Four Morning Planets

Venus moves into the morning sky with Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  The crescent moon adds to the view.

 

The crescent moon and Venus, June 16, 2020
2020, June 16: The crescent moon is over 36° to the upper right of Venus.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

This morning the crescent moon – 25.0 days past the New phase and 22% illuminated – is low in the east, midway from Mars to Venus.  It is heading toward Friday’s (June 19) close grouping with Venus, now emerging into the morning sky. 

Venus is low in the east-northeast during morning twilight, June 6, 2020.
2020, June 16: Venus is low in the east-northeast during morning twilight. Use a binocular to see its tiny crescent phase.

Find a clear horizon to see Venus low in the east-northeast.

For more about Venus as a morning star during 2020, see this article. Through a binocular Venus shows a thin crescent shape. This morning Venus is over 36° to the lower left of the moon.

On July 19, the five-naked eye planets (Mercury – Saturn) appear in the sky with the crescent moon.

The lunar crescent and Mars, June 16, 2020
2020, June 16: The lunar crescent – 25.0 days past the New phase and 22% illuminated – is low in the east, 37° to the lower left of Mars.

This morning the moon is 37° to the lower left of Mars.  The Red Planet is among the faint stars of Aquarius.

Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter are in the southern sky, June 16, 2020
2020, June 16: Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter appear in the southern sky. Mars is 57° from Jupiter. Jupiter and Saturn are 5.3° apart. They are retrograding in eastern Sagittarius.

Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter arch across the southern sky.  Mars is in the southeast, with Saturn and bright Jupiter in the south-southwest. Mars is over 57° from Jupiter and the gap continues to grow as Mars marches eastward compared to the starry background.

Meanwhile, Jupiter and Saturn continue to retrograde, move westward compared to the starry background.  This illusion is from Earth overtaking and passing the outer planets.  With a binocular watch the planets move westward compared to the stars.  This morning Jupiter is 1.7° to the lower left of 56 Sagittarii – labelled on some star charts and the image above as 56 Sgr.  Saturn is 2.1° to the lower right of Sigma Capricorni, σ Cap.

As Jupiter and Saturn retrograde, they also separate.  This morning they are 5.3° apart.  As they move westward against the starry background, the gap between Jupiter and Saturn increases.

Earth passes between the sun and Jupiter (opposition) on July 14, followed by Saturn six days later.  At opposition the planets rise in the southeast at sunset, appear in the south at midnight, and set in the west at sunrise.  They are in opposite directions from the sun.

Jupiter and Saturn continue to retrograde until September.  After the planets begin their direct motion, Jupiter over takes and catches Saturn in a Great Conjunction on December 21, 2020.  Such events occur every 19.6 years, about once every generation. This conjunction is the closest of the two planets since 1623.

Follow the planets in the sky during June.

2020: Earth and Venus From Mars

Earth and Venus from Mars
Two images of the night sky were combined to show Earth and Venus as seen by the Mast Camera aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on June 5, 2020, the 2,784th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (NASA Photo)

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

While we have been observing the morning planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – and Venus is now taking its place there, NASA’s Curiosity Rover captured Earth and Venus in its camera.

On the surface of Mars, Curiosity’s Mast Camera was photographing the sky to measure the brightness of twilight on Earth date June 5, 2020.  The image as a combination of two separate exposures.

In the image, Earth looks brighter than Venus.  Venus is actually about twice as bright as Earth from the Martian surface.

NASA’s Mark Lemmon stated, “The brief photo session was partly to gauge the twilight brightness: During this time of year on Mars, there’s more dust in the air to reflect sunlight, making the air particularly bright.”

Read more about this observation here.

To see Mars in our sky, read this article. Continue to watch the planets with us as Venus makes its grand entrance into the morning sky of Earth.

2020, June 15: Venus Joins Moon, Morning Planets

Venus low in the east-northeast, June 15, 2020
2020, June 15: Venus appears very low in the east-northeast about 25 minutes before sunrise.

Venus joins Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the moon in the morning sky.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

For more about Venus as a morning star during 2020, read this article.

Venus is now joining the morning planets, along with Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. Just 12 days after its solar conjunction, it is appearing low in the east-northeast during bright morning twilight.  Because of its brightness, it can be seen even in a bright sky.  The image above was made about 25 minutes before sunrise.  The planet was visible without a binocular, but through the binocular the planet displayed a thin crescent.

Farther along the eastern horizon, the crescent moon – 23.6 days past the New phase and 30% illuminated – is low in the east-southeast.  On Friday morning (June 19), the moon appears very close to Venus.  They are separated by about 1°, about twice the apparent size of the moon.  This is the closest grouping of the moon and Venus during this morning appearance of Venus.

On July 19, the five-naked eye planets (Mercury – Saturn) appear in the sky with the crescent moon.

The crescent moon and Mars, June 15, 2020
2020, June 15: The crescent moon and Mars in the morning sky.

Mars is over 25° to the upper right of the moon.  It continues its eastward march among the stars, moving farther from Jupiter and Saturn.

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, June 15, 2020
2020, June 15: The bright morning planets are visible across the southern horizon. Jupiter and Saturn are 5.3° apart in the southwest.

Jupiter and Saturn are in the southwest.  They continue to retrograde – move westward against the starry background.  Each night they rise in the east and move westward from Earth’s rotation.  Compared to the starry background, they seem to move backwards.  The forward motion is eastward compared to the stars.  The illusion of retrograde occurs as our planet approaches and passes a planet that is farther from the sun than Earth.  Jupiter and Saturn started retrograding last month and this continues until September.  Earth passes between these planets and the sun next month, Jupiter, July 14, and Saturn, July 20.

After the planets begin their direct motion, Jupiter over takes and catches Saturn in a Great Conjunction.  Such events occur every 19.6 years, about once every generation. This conjunction is the closest of the two planets since 1623.

Follow the planets in the sky during June.

2020, June 14: Welcome Back, Venus!

Venus returns to the morning sky, June 14, 2020
2020, June 14: The crescent Venus appears low in the east-northeast, 25 minutes before sunrise. Welcome back, Venus!

Venus reappears in the morning sky

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

For more about Venus as a morning star during 2020, read this article.

Welcome back, Venus!  Eleven days after Venus passed between Earth and the sun (inferior conjunction), it is beginning to appear in the morning sky.  It rises 4 minutes earlier each morning.  This morning it appeared about 5° above the horizon about 25 minutes before sunrise.

This morning Venus joins the crescent moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter in the sky at this hour.  On July 19, the five-naked eye planets (Mercury – Saturn) appear in the sky with the crescent moon.

Through a binocular, the tiny crescent phase was visible. The image above was captured about 25 minutes before sunrise. When magnified, this image shows a hint of the crescent phase.

On June 19, the crescent moon appears 1.0° from brilliant Venus. On that morning the pair appears about 6° in altitude in the east-northeast.  As seen in the image, find a clear horizon.  With fully-leafed trees, this may require you to find an unusual observing location.