For the next few weeks, you can see five planets in the sky at once
The rest of June is looking great for stargazers. On the morning of June 23, the gathering of four planets, visible with the naked eye, will be joined by the crescent moon. The four planets, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, are becoming a bit more spread out but should stay visible for most observers until September.
If you observe closer to sunrise, you will even be able to see a fifth planet, Mercury, join in on the celestial fun. According to Sky & Telescope, ‘All five bright planets fan out in order of their distance from the Sun across the dawn sky now through early July. One of the prettiest mornings to view them will be June 24th, when a striking crescent Moon joins the crew. You can start earlier — 60 to 90 minutes before sunrise — to spot Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. To add Venus and Mercury, which nestle low in the solar glow, you’ll need to observe closer to sunrise. Use this sunrise calculator to plan your outing. As the Moon passes through, we’ll see successive conjunctions or appulses. The Moon appears near Jupiter on June 21st; Mars on June 22nd, Venus on June 26th, and Mercury on June 27th.’
Even more amazing than being able to see all five of these bright planets in the sky simultaneously, they’ll be in the correct order outward from the Sun, starting with Mercury and ending with Saturn. The event last occurred in December 2004, but it was only visible in certain tropical areas. For US sky watchers, you must go back to July 1957 to find a similar event. If you miss it this time, you’ll be waiting until March 2041.
Allyson Bieryla, manager of Science Center Astronomy Lab and Telescope at Harvard University, told the Boston Globe that Venus will appear the brightest, but all the planets will be visible to the naked eye. ‘These objects are much brighter than stars, so it should be fairly obvious even to a novice observer,’ Bieryla said.
‘If you have a pair of binoculars or a telescope, point them at the planets and moon,’ Bieryla wrote. ‘With even a small telescope, or binoculars on a tripod, you can see Jupiter’s largest 4 moons (called the Galilean moons) and Saturn’s rings. If you are in a dark enough location with a small telescope, you might also be able to see the atmospheric bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere!’
|Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech|
The display will be visible until early July, so unless you experience an unbelievable string of bad weather, you should be able to view the amazing display. Light pollution is a potential, although likely minor issue, so if you need help finding a dark sky, visit Dark Site Finder. However, Bieryla adds, ‘As with all observing, the best conditions are clear, dark skies but luckily these are all bright, naked-eye objects so you should be able to see the lineup even from the city!’
If you’re looking for optimal photo conditions, you want to photograph just before dawn. ‘You should be able to spot Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and even Venus for several more weeks in a similar lineup,’ Bieryla added. ‘Mercury is only visible for brief periods of time and only fairly low in the horizon because of its orbit, but if you miss all 5 planets, I encourage you to look up in the early morning anytime over the next several weeks to see how many planets you can spot. The moon will only appear in this lineup for the next few days, and then not again until next month.’ For more photo tips, visit Sky & Telescope.