For the last month and a half, we earthlings have been treated to a nighttime sky in which we can point out three planets at once: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Starting this week, you can add in Venus and — if you use binoculars — Mercury, too. Here’s how to find all five bright planets in the sky at one time.
Editor’s Note: These planets may only be viewable in the Northern Hemisphere this month.
Download the SkyView app
Sure, we can give you approximate locations of the planets in the sky, but apps like SkyView and its free brother, SkyView Lite, help a ton. Simply open the app and point it heavenward. Your camera will identify whatever it “sees,” including stars, satellites, constellations (complete with illustrations) and, yes, planets.
Set your alarm
If you want to catch all five planets at once, you’ll need to get up about an hour and six minutes before sunrise. Plug your city into Time and Date to figure out the time of your local sunrise.
How to find Jupiter and Saturn
In mid-July, Jupiter and Saturn rise around sunset. Find Jupiter first; it’s the fourth brightest celestial object, and on Wednesday (that’s today), the planet will be at its annual peak brightness. That’s because this month, Jupiter is in opposition, which happens when Earth passes between it and the sun. While in opposition, Jupiter will seem to be completely illuminated from Earth, according to Forbes.
Once you find Jupiter, Saturn is the bright object directly to its east. This year, the two planets are having a “great conjunction,” which hasn’t happened since 2000. The cyclical great conjunction, according to EarthSky, occurs when Jupiter and Saturn meet in the sky.
How to find Mars
The red planet will rise before midnight and sit low in the east. It’s actually working its way toward an opposition, too — in mid October, Mars will be even brighter than Jupiter — so this month, Mars is brighter than average.
How to find Venus
If you’re feeling grumbly about the early wake-up call, here’s the first culprit: By late July, Venus rises in the eastern sky around 3:15 a.m., according to Space.com, and it will shine at its brightest for the majority of the month.
How to find Mercury
Mercury’s the other reason you need to set your alarm. It will become visible this week in the eastern predawn sky.
Unlike the other four planets, you may need binoculars to find Mercury along the horizon; according to Earthsky. it t rises so close to sunup that it has to compete with that early-morning glow.
Viewing the five bright planets — those that are visible to the naked eye — at once is a rare thing, possible only a few times a decade, as Space.com reported when it happened in 2016. Enjoy the show — it’s nice to have something bright to look forward to in 2020.