Tonight, Jupiter will be visible close to Earth and should shine brighter than all the stars combined. When viewing it with proper binoculars, its striped bands and three or four of its Galilean moons should become evident.
Venus reappears in evening twilight shortly after sunset, rising low over the west-north-western horizon before joining an 11 day old crescent Moon in rising.
Jupiter, the gaseous giant that orbits Earth, has recently come within 590 million miles of our world – marking an historic close approach after 59 years! But even at its closest proximity, it remains 590 million miles distant.
The Jovian disc remains large and spectacular for telescopes throughout October, not dipping below 48 arcseconds across until around the middle of the month. Even then it remains high in the evening sky – roughly halfway between horizon and zenith at its maximum brightness.
On November 12th, look for Jupiter about two and a half hours post sunset, using a 4-inch or larger telescope to view its bands and Great Red Spot in greater detail as well as thin rings made of icy material surrounding it. A good location for viewing would be high up in an open and dry location.
Jupiter is an exceptional planet in our solar system: It’s the biggest (bigger than 1,300 Earths), boasts an immense family of moons, and rotates faster than all the other planets combined. Additionally, it stands as fifth closest to our Sun and lights up our evening skies with its colorful cloud patterns.
Venus and Mars appear close together above the western horizon during early twilight on July 10. To locate Venus first, simply look for a large crescent Moon that lies approximately one finger width below it on that day. On July 11, Mars will pass within one degree of Regulus star and can easily be separated with binoculars.
Tonight in the evening sky, Mars and Venus make an unexpected brief encounter. Mars can be seen several finger widths above and left (or celestial east) of Antares in Leo constellation; unfortunately their positions don’t fit within one telescope field of view but can still be easily observed with naked eye in early twilight.
Venus, which spent much of August receding from the Sun, reappears low over the western horizon as evening twilight begins and will have a crescent Moon in its upper-right quadrant on 15 October; making for a striking view when seen through binoculars.
By March’s end, Mars will become visible to the naked eye despite its relatively dim magnitude 0.4 brightness, although smaller telescopes may still have difficulty picking out surface details. By this month’s end, its disc will have expanded to 12 arcseconds across so smaller telescopes can more effectively pick up on surface details.
Before the middle of August, Mars will pass within three-quarters of a degree of Regulus in Virgo constellation and thus within reach of being visible through a telescope, providing enough clarity for it to reveal smudges of color where darker and lighter parts of Mars collide, though you will require a larger scope in order to discern Phobos and Deimos, both visible as small, dim moons.
On April 20, Jupiter will reach its closest approach to Earth in 60 years and should be easily visible in the pre-midnight sky. Jupiter is at opposition, which means it lines up perfectly between its orbit around the Sun and Earth, making it appear bigger and brighter than normal; large telescopes should even detect new rings, moons and belts around this gas giant planet.
Venus shines so bright that it’s sometimes mistaken for an UFO. This morning star (it never sets) makes for an excellent binocular target from dusk until dawn, and this month in particular offers some stunning viewing.
At the start of July, Venus is 34 arcseconds across and 31% illuminated – an outstanding sight through any telescope. Over time however, Venus will become gradually smaller while surface brightness diminishes slightly – still an outstanding showpiece and a worthwhile challenge for beginning telescope users alike.
Discover Venus for its captivating beauty, and its atmospheric gasses emitting subtle hues of luminescence. Scientists suspect this phenomenon is likely caused by gravity waves moving over its surface at speeds estimated to be several miles per hour – possibly accounting for Venus’ strange glow during predawn and evening twilight hours.
Venus shares Mercury’s less eccentric orbit; its distance from the Sun fluctuates minimally at both perihelion and aphelion, with an average distance between them of 108 million kilometers, and an orbital period of 224.7 Earth days.
By the end of August, Venus and Mercury will be seen close together low over the western horizon after sunset. Look for them about 30 minutes after darkness about fist-width distance apart just above 1st magnitude star Regulus for best viewing conditions. This close conjunction won’t recur for several years as Mercury gradually recedes from view into evening skies until Mars joins Venus later this summer for another encounter in evening twilight skies.
Mercury, our Solar System’s smallest planet, can be one of the trickiest to identify. Often appearing as a bright “star” with golden or ochre hues, Mercury rises an hour before or sets an hour after sunrise/settime depending on where its orbit takes it – sometimes appearing twice! Due to Mercury’s eccentric orbital path it even seems to rise and set multiple times each day!
Mercury moves swiftly across the sky. If you pay close attention every night, you’ll see its unique teardrop shape make its way against a background of stars – one reason its surface features are very different than those on Venus, Mars or Jupiter.
In 2016, a space probe called Messenger successfully completed an historic transit of Mercury. The event revealed that Mercury’s dark side contains significant deposits of carbon that likely came from being heated up during core-mantle boundary formation; over time this carbon became embedded within layers of hot rock, creating deep valleys and troughs on its surface.
As August begins, Jupiter dominates the predawn eastern horizon and soon enough Saturn makes an appearance in that same area of sky. While Saturn’s rings may not be easily visible with naked eye viewing, binoculars provide an enhanced perspective. While its spectacular rings may take your breath away, planet itself is actually smaller and only 95 times heavier compared to its rings; Earth could fit within Saturn if compressed to about one quarter its current size!
Saturn can be seen by naked eye, as a yellowish-hued star-like point; however, to view its iconic rings requires the help of a telescope. Saturn’s rings extend more than 175,000 miles (282,000 km) out from its surface and are razor thin at their core; they form a continuous band in the sky with gaps only appearing when one side tilts toward Earth more strongly or away from it.
Saturn’s rings are composed of both ice and rock, with inner rings predominantly composed of icy material while outer rings mainly composed of rock. Scientists speculate that their formation was probably caused by meteoroids and comets impacting Saturn over a 4 billion year period, though. Saturn and its rings have inspired numerous works of science fiction from Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice” to 2014 movie “Interstellar,” depicting an alternative universe with living sandworms inhabiting its surface.
As July advances, Saturn rises several hours before dawn and reaches a high point above the eastern horizon by sunset. By New Year’s Eve it will remain above the horizon for over four hours, often directly below Jupiter – creating a breathtaking pair in the evening sky.
Star Walk 2’s astronomy app Star Walk can assist you in finding Saturn and determining its ideal viewing times in your location. Launch it, tap on the magnifier icon at the lower part of the screen, type “Saturn” into the search field, and switch to Events mode; to see all events involving Saturn (magnitude 0.6) and 81%-illuminated Moon (only 2deg40′ apart on July 7) get even closer in Aquarius constellation on July 7.