This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
Astronomers are all excited about the seven major planets that will be visible this month. But wait a minute, all seven? First off you think, but there are nine planets. Then you remember that poor Pluto got demoted a while back to an ice planet along with the other small ice planets and larger asteroids in our solar system, mainly because of its size and composition. O.K., I’m good with that, you say. But wait, we are still missing one. Which planet is missing in the sky this month? We have Mercury, Venus, and Mars—the rocky planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—the gas giants—all visible this month. A good trick question for your astronomy buddies at night while you are searching for planets is ask them, how many planets are out tonight? Then you add one more to their list. Most of them will bet the bank that they are correct. Just about everyone misses the most important one: Earth. Maybe not in the sky from our view, but nonetheless within sight of us. Good luck making them pay up. It must be a boring month for astronomy if I have to start off the article with this story. I think being cooped up has made my mind somewhat soft. At least I have something to blame it on.
O.K., let’s find these seven or eight planets, maybe this will help: Mercury is in a great location in the evening following the Sun as it sets in the first two weeks of this month. Remember, they don’t call this planet Mercury for nothing. If you don’t find it in the first two weeks you will miss this speedy little planet altogether as it travels behind the Sun.
Venus will pop up in the morning sky one hour before sunrise. Jupiter and Saturn stand roughly 5° apart all summer. Watch on the night of the eight when the Moon comes within 2° and 3° from both gassy giants. Mars is growing larger every night waiting for what appears to be a great showing by late 2020. Keep an eye on it as it grows in appearance. This close view happens every two years when Earth catches up to Mars’ orbit for a very close look. Uranus and Neptune can be seen with binoculars, completing a rich planetary tour.
If you were thinking about upgrading to a larger telescope aperture, now is the time to do it, so make sure you can really enjoy the up and coming night sky views for the rest of the year.
The nights are getting warmer, which really brings out the fair weathered viewers. This includes most of my fellow amateur astronomers. You know which ones you are. I may even be one of them. Get out there have fun and see who can find that eighth planet.
June Night Watch
June 5: Full Moon
June 8: Moon passes 2° south of Jupiter
June 8: Moon passes 3 ° south of Saturn
June 12: Mars passes 1.7° south of Neptune
June 12: Moon passes 4° south of Neptune
June 12: Moon passes 3° south of Mars
June 13: Last Quarter Moon
June 14: Moon is at apogee (251,404 miles)