View the five major planets across the Arizona skies
With the 4th of July holiday here, many of you will be on an extended vacation and travel to cooler and darker skies!
Even if you are still city bound, you have a great opportunity to view an amazing line up of bright planets in our great Arizona skies.
Over the past month, the movements of these wandering stars, known as planets, now set the stage for you to actually be able to view five of the major planets of the solar system with the naked eye.
To do this, look for a location that has the darkest of skies and the best view of the northwestern sky. With monsoons just around the corner, try for a night that is cloud free!
The first of the planets on our menu is the small and unique world we know as the planet Mercury. Only some 36,000,000 miles from the Sun with a diameter of some 3,100 miles.
Mercury comes to its best evening elongation by July 12 and will be easy to view 26 degrees away from the Sun.
Binoculars will help to see this amazing little planet.
From there, follow an arc from Mercury to the upper left and you will come to bright Venus. This is the second planet from the Sun and even though it is about the size of Earth, Venus is way too hot and encased in clouds.
Venus will be getting higher and brighter in the sky, over the next few months. Venus is now some 90,000,000 miles from the Earth.
From here, follow the arc from Mercury and Venus and look to the south on that arc. You will then come to the amazing giant planet Jupiter.
Jupiter is some 450,000,000 miles away from you at this time and light takes about 40 minutes to get from Jupiter to the Earth.
If you have binoculars, you will be able to view some of the moons of Jupiter, one which is larger than the planet Mercury, known as Ganymede. This magic arc in the sky is known as the ecliptic path, the path of the Sun, Moon and planets. The named zodiac signs!
Now it starts to get even more exciting, as you follow that arc, low into the southeastern sky, as you view the zodiac constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius, near the central hub of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
The next naked eye planet is Saturn.
Saturn adorns the top area of the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer.
Bright and easy to see with the naked eye, it is some 842,000,000 miles from Earth at this time.
The best view of Saturn will be in a small telescope as the amazing ring system will astound you!
We saved the best for last, as the last, as Mars will light up the southeastern sky at 10 p.m. local time.
Mars is racing toward its best view in some 15 years as it will come within 35,785,537 miles on July 31.
Mars is a great object to view in your telescope in spite of a major dust storm running around the planet.
Mars will not be this close again until Sept. 11 2035, so don’t miss this close encounter of 2018!
Now, with clears skies, you have observed five of the major eight planets of our solar system! Congratulations!
To print your very own July 2018 star chart, click here.
To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.
- Important meteor showers return to Arizona skies in November
- Discovery Channel Telescope is part of Arizona’s rich astronomy history
- Arizonans can see Pleiades star cluster during clear October evenings
- Trouble for Hubble? Here’s why the space telescope is wobbly
- Astronomers discover distant planet billions of miles beyond Pluto