Predawn Planetary Conga Line

By Chuck McPartlin

Early risers over the next several days, weather permitting, will see an impressive lineup of planets strewn across our eastern to southeastern horizon. Above is the view at 5:30 AM PDT on Thursday, June 16, courtesy of Sky Safari Pro.

What makes this lineup especially interesting is that all the naked-eye planets are lined up in order of their distance from the Sun. Little Mercury will be the most difficult to see in the glow from the coming dawn. Binoculars will help you spot it, but beware of the Sun! All of the major planets are actually present, but Uranus and Neptune are not in order, and require binoculars and a little more effort to identify. Binoculars will also show you the four Galilean moons of Jupiter.

On the 16th, the nearly full Moon is off the edge of the image to the right, but as the days progress, it will both wane and slide eastward along the planetary lineup, a graphic demonstration of  the plane of the solar system and the Moon’s orbital motion.

Mercury will be higher and brighter on the morning of Friday, June 24, and the waning crescent Moon will be in between Venus and Mars, marking the Earth’s place in order from the Sun. On the 26th, its very thin crescent will be close to brilliant Venus, forming a visual Turkish flag in the sky.

Your next chance to see the eyeball planets lined up in order will be in 2041.


Written by macpuzl

Outreach Coordinator for the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit

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