For night owls, Saturn will be the sole planet on display in the evening skies over the course of the next month. But early-birds will get a chance to see a “family reunion” of worlds above the eastern horizon at dawn.
The sky show kicks off this weekend as the waning crescent moon pays a visit to both Uranus and Venus.
For the first stop on Saturday, the moon will act as a convenient guidepost to tracking down the seventh planet in the solar system, the icy gas giant Uranus.
Look for the planet about six degrees—or the equivalent of 12 full-moon disks—to the right of the moon.
Normally Uranus is quite a challenge to track down for beginner sky-watchers because of its faintness. After all, the planet lies about 1.8 billion miles (3 billion kilometers) away from the sun.
Shining at a magnitude of 5.5, which is just barely visible to the naked eye from a dark countryside, Uranus is more easily hunted down from the suburbs using binoculars or a small telescope. These optical aids reveal it as a tiny greenish disk set against the inky blackness of space.
By Sunday at dawn, the moon will seem to have have snuggled up to the goddess of love, Venus.
The cosmic pair will be separated by about 8 degrees—16 full-moon disks. Unlike Uranus, the much closer Venus—only about 124 million miles (200 million kilometers) away—is the brightest star-like object in the heavens now.
What’s more, Venus won’t be alone, although finding its companions will present more of an observing challenge the next few nights.
With binoculars you’ll be able to spot tiny Mercury just to the lower left of brilliant Venus.
Even closer to the horizon, below the moon, will be Jupiter next to a fainter, ruby colored Mars.
Unfortunately these planets will be close to the horizon and will be quickly drowned out by the glare of the rising sun.
But don’t fret though if you can’t locate all the planets now, because this cosmic parade is just a preview for a really beautiful gathering of worlds peaking in a couple of weeks, when the planets all climb much higher in the morning sky. So stay tuned!
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.