How to See Five Planets in the Night Sky This Weekend
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible during the early morning hours on July 19
Just before sunrise each day until Sunday, July 19, five planets will be visible to the naked eye at the same time, Jamie Carter reports for Travel and Leisure.
Most of the planets in the solar system are visible with the naked eye—only Neptune and Uranus evade unequipped stargazers. But the five “bright” planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, don’t usually share the night sky simultaneously. The five were also visible in January 2016, Sky & Telescope’s Kelly Beatty reported at the time, and the last time they reunited before that was in 2005. This weekend, the planets will be accompanied by a sliver of a crescent moon and, in the evening, the NEOWISE comet.
"We're very lucky to have such an eye-catching lineup this summer," Laura Danly, curator at Griffith Observatory, says in a statement, per Good Morning America’s Tommy Brooksbank. "We tend to take for granted all this stuff that is going on over our heads, but if you tune in you can see our solar system at work."
To spot all five planets together, you’ll need to wake up early to reach a stargazing spot about an hour before sunrise. Try to choose a location where the horizon is clear. Mercury is the most elusive planet to spot, as it appears close to the horizon and only briefly because of its close orbit to the sun.
About 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury will appear in the northeast. To locate it in the sky, try measuring about four finger widths to the left of the moon, suggests Chris Vaughan at Space. It should look slightly reddish and won’t twinkle like a star.
But after you find Mercury, the hardest part is over. Above it and to the right, Venus will stand out as the brightest planet in the sky. And if you trace a curved line, called the ecliptic, from Mercury and Venus toward the southwest, the other three planets will stand out in the sky. Mars will sit at the top of the curve, and closer to the horizon, you can spot Jupiter and Saturn.
The pair of gas giants have been a highlight of the night sky this month because Earth is currently between them and the sun. That means that this month, Earth is as close to Jupiter and Saturn as it will get all year, making them brighter than usual and easy to spot all night, per Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd for a EarthSky. And on Monday, Saturn will reach its opposition point, when it’s exactly opposite the Sun across Earth and at its brightest. (Jupiter reached opposition on July 13 and 14.)
Although the planets will be visible to the naked eye, a pair of binoculars may help you pick Mercury out of the twilight sky. And if you point the binoculars at Jupiter, the four Galilean moons Callisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede should also be visible.