Viewing the planets in the night sky
The month of July is excellent to watch the ballet of planets in the night sky. What’s the best time and what planet can you see the best? Make sure to check out NASA top 5 images of deep space
If you are below 54° north of latitude, you might have spotted the gas giant already. You simply cannot miss it if you have been outside at any point of the night. This month Jupiter will be at opposition, meaning it will be at its closest approach to Earth. As a consequence, the biggest planet of our solar system will shine extremely bright (Magnitude of -2.6 for those who know what it means). In fact it will outshine any other object except for the moon. It will successfully help cast a faint shadow if you are located under very dark skies!
Jupiter will appear as a very bright ‘star’. In the northern hemisphere it will rise in the south-east at the end of the evening and will slowly cross due south in the course of the night. Jupiter is currently located in the southern Ophiuchus constellation, near the core of the milky way and will reach opposition on the 10th(brightest).
Observers located further south in latitude will have a better observing opportunity, as Jupiter will be higher in the sky; especially if you want to do telescope observation! Regardless of that, it will be the perfect time to try and look at Jupiter’s moons through binoculars. With a long enough tele-photo lens and a sturdy tripod, you will be also be able to take pictures of them!
Venus will be the second brightest object in the night sky, or should we say the morning sky! Indeed, Venus can only be spotted at dawn roughly an hour before sunrise in the east-northeast, right above the horizon. In theory Venus will shine brighter than Jupiter but you will see it much closer to the brightening horizon than Jupiter. Consequently the latter will appear brighter in comparison!
The best chances to catch it is with binoculars 30 minutes before the sun rises. Venus is solely visible this month because of its great brilliance (Magnitude -3.9). It will appear as a yellow star, hence the name ‘morning star’!
Because of Mercury’s close distance to the Sun, it will change position rather quickly from one night to another. It will also lose brilliance throughout the month (-1.1 on June 1sttill 0.0 on the 15th). But it also comes into view significantly higher above the west-northwest horizon by mid-month, outshining nearby Mars for those around 40° N of latitude. The set time of Mercury increases throughout the month so it will become best seen at mid-month.
After putting on a great night-sky show for about a year-and-a-half, Mars is getting further away from us into the solar system (~21 light minutes away from Earth). Consequently Mars will not shine very bright in the sky (magnitude of +1.8 only). Currently the red planet sets in the west-northwest around 9:30pm. However on the 18th, it will pass strikingly close to Mercury (0.3 degrees apart), which could enable you to take an awesome shot. As a side note, the two planets will be right below the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.
Saturn will likely be the object a lot of people with a telescope will want to look at in the next few months as it comes at opposition on July 9th. It rises at the end of twilight by June 8th, however only people at southern latitudes will be able to correctly view it because of its southerly declination in the Sagittarius constellation. As of now, Jupiter largely outshines it but the ringed planet will become brighter and brighter throughout June. By the end of the month, it will shine much brighter! For watchers with a telescope, it’s an excellent time to get Saturn’s rings are they are oriented in a very picturesque way, their northern face being tilted 24 degrees to our line of sight. Read more about planets at Space.com