Tuesday, July 16, 2024

See 5 planets after sunset, in the sky or via video

Date:

This graphic shows the view on March 30, 2023, looking to the west after sunset. Jupiter is getting more and more difficult to see, as it falls into the sunset glow. But Mercury will be rising west—and getting higher each evening—throughout early April. Note that Uranus is close to Venus, but not visible. We show Uranus on the chart below. cross layout stellarium.org. Used with permission.

How do you see the five planets?

This week (late March 2023), you can see five planets — Venus, Uranus, Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars — lined up in the evening sky. Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome, Italy, showed them via telescope earlier today (March 29). To enjoy his presentation, watch the video below. In addition, you can see it in the sky, perhaps, if your sky conditions are very good, and if you have a sharp eye.

The planets lie along a gentle arc across the evening sky, shortly after sunset, following the ecliptic, or the sun’s path across the sky. Likewise, the moon and the planets also follow the path of the sun.

How do you see the planets? Go out around sunset and look west. You will easily see the brightest planet of all, Venus.

Then use binoculars to scan next to Venus for the planet Uranus.

Then aim your binoculars lower in the sky, closer to the point of sunset. This is where you will find Jupiter and Mercury.

Then look up in the sky – still looking along the ecliptic or ecliptic – for Mars.

virtual telescope Make a show of all five planets after sunset, on March 28, 2023.

Last chance to get a moon phase calendar! A few left. For sale now.

A guide to seeing the planets

Venus and Uranus. Of these five planets, Venus is the brightest and Uranus the weakest. These two are close to each other in the sky. The flower is easily visible to the eye. It will be the first “star” (real planet) to come into view. Uranus shines at +5.8 magnitude. This is theoretically visible to the eye. But, in practice, you’ll need dark skies and binoculars to find them. It’s about 1.5 degrees, or three moon widths, from Venus early this week. Uranus will be closest to Venus on Thursday, March 30th.

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Jupiter and Mercury. Jupiter is the second brightest planet. But it is near sunset now and can only be seen in bright twilight. The bright twilight skies make Jupiter more difficult to find than it would be otherwise. But Jupiter can still be seen by eye, near sunset. And Mercury? It is fainter than Jupiter (though still brighter than most stars). But it’s also close to sunset. Start looking for the pair low on the western horizon, shortly after sunset. You’ll need clear skies and an unobstructed western view to capture them. Binoculars should help. They will only set about 30 minutes after sunset. So, when the sun goes down, the clock is ticking.

Mars, the fifth planet now in the evening sky, it was easy to find early this week, because it is not far from the moon on the sky’s dome. It’s the bright red light near the Moon on Tuesday evening, March 28, 2023. Mars is bright. It is brighter than most stars. It is obviously red in colour. Even after the Sun has moved away, you may be able to find Mars by its color, and by the fact that it doesn’t twinkle like the stars.

Some finder schemes

March 30, Venus and Uranus through binoculars.  Venus at upper right, larger and brighter.
On the evening of March 30, 2023, bright Venus transits dimmer Uranus. In other words, these two worlds are closest on March 30th. Standard binoculars will easily reveal Uranus next to Venus, assuming you have dark skies. Graph via John Jardine Goss/Earthsky.
5 Planets: The sky chart for March 31st shows the stars.  The planets and the moon are aligned during sunset.
This graphic shows the view on March 31, 2023, looking to the west after sunset. Can you catch Jupiter in the glow of the sunset? Mercury rises every evening throughout early April. Note that Uranus is close to Venus, but not visible. cross layout stellarium.org. Used with permission.
5 Planets: The sky chart for March 29th shows the stars.  The planets and the moon are aligned at night.
Do you want to see 5 planets tonight? Be ready for the challenge. This graphic shows the view on March 29, 2023, looking to the west after sunset. As the days go by, Jupiter becomes more and more difficult to see, as it falls into the sunset glow. But Mercury will be rising west—and getting higher each evening—throughout early April. Note that Uranus is close to Venus, but not visible. cross layout stellarium.org. Used with permission.
Two half-lit moons, one on the right near the red dot (Mars) and the other on the left near the stars named Castor and Pollux.
Here’s a chart showing both March 28th and March 29th. Do you see how the moon moves relative to Mars? Also look out for the twin stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini the Twins. Graph via John Jardine Goss/Earthsky.

Visit stellarium.org for accurate views from your site.

Bottom line: You have a chance to see five planets tonight and the rest of this week. Charts and information here including where to watch it on the video.

For more sky events, visit EarthSky’s night sky guide.

Rosario Tejeda
Rosario Tejeda
"Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver."

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