Visible Planets Guide – When and Where to View (2020)
Are you an avid stargazer? If so, you probably want to know when you can see not just the stars but the visible planets in our Solar System as well. These are sometimes referred to as the “naked-eye planets,” because you can see them with the naked eye—no telescope or binoculars needed (except for Neptune!). This handy guide gives you the dates for when you can see the planets throughout the year. This is one page you’ll want to bookmark!
When You Can See The Planets in 2020
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun in our Solar System. Because it is so close to the Sun, it is only observable in the early morning, just after sunrise, or at dusk. In fact, ancient Greek astronomers once believed Mercury was actually two separate objects. It usually appears as a bright “star” with a golden hue. As an evening star, appears in the western sky setting about an hour after the Sun; as a morning star, it appears in the eastern sky rising about an hour before the Sun.
March 17–April 7
July 15–August 1
November 3–November 22 (brightest and easiest to spot)
Evenings January 26–February 16 (brightest and easiest to spot)
May 21–June 11
September 17–October 8
After the Moon, Venus is the brightest natural object in the night sky. It is both the Earth’s closest neighbor in our Solar System and the planet most similar to Earth in size, gravity, and composition. We can’t see the surface of Venus from Earth, because it is covered with thick clouds. Venus has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), which consists mostly of carbon dioxide.
June 13 to December 31 (brightest July 10–August 13)
January 1–May 24 (brightest – March 24 -April 26)
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in our Solar System. While it’s not our nearest neighbor (Venus takes that honor), or the brightest planet in the night sky (also Venus), it is perhaps the planet that most inspires our imagination. Whether as home to “little green men” or as a future outpost for life from Earth, the planet figures heavily into science fiction books and movies. Mars is often called the “Red Planet” because it appears orange-red in the sky, and its surface material contains a lot of iron oxide. Iron looks black, but the element takes on a reddish tinge when it has been exposed to oxygen, i.e., “iron oxide.”
January 1–October 12 (brightest October 4–12)
October 13–December 31 (brightest October 13–17)
Jupiter is usually the third brightest object in the night sky, after the Moon and Venus (only Mars, our next-door neighbor, is occasionally brighter), and summer is an especially good time to view this bright behemoth. Jupiter’s signature feature, the “Great Red Spot,” is actually a colossal storm that has been raging on the planet’s surface since at least the 17th century, when it was first seen by telescope. It’s known as the Gas Giant” because although it looks solid, it is made up primarily of gases, such as hydrogen and helium.
January 15–July 13 (brightest July 11-13)
July 14–December 31 (brightest July 14-16)
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun, and the second largest, after Jupiter. It is one of the five planets visible from Earth using only the naked-eye (the others are Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter). Though remote from the Earth, Saturn’s unique ring system makes it possibly the most instantly recognized planet in our Solar System. Though about 833 Earths would fit into Saturn, the planet’s density is only one-eighth that of the Earth, making Saturn’s mass barely 95 times greater than the Earth’s.
January 29–July 19 (brightest July 4-19)
July 20–December 1 (brightest July 20–August 9)
Uranus (pronounced “EUR-an-iss) is the 7th planet from the Sun, the smallest of our Solar System’s gas planets, and the first to be discovered by scientists. Uranus is so far away from us, it usually can’t even be seen with the naked eye. the planet is also notable for its dramatic tilt, which causes its axis to point nearly directly at the Sun. It’s sometimes called “The Bull’s Eye Planet,” because of its complex rings and Moons make it appear like a bull’s eye, and the “Ice Giant,” because of its cold atmosphere, and 80% or more of its mass is made up of a mix of water, methane, and ammonia ices.
May 12–October 30 (brightest August 21–October 30)
January 1–April 8
October 31–December 31 (brightest October 31–December 31)
Neptune is the eighth, and farthest planet in our Solar System and the first whose existence was theorized before its actual discovery. Like Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, Neptune is called a “gas giant” because, though it looks solid, it is made up primarily of gases, such as hydrogen and helium, covering a rocky core comprised of heavier elements. Neptune has 13 moons and takes 165 years to take 1 trip around the Sun! It’s sometimes called “The Blue Planet,” because Neptune’s cloud cover has an especially vivid blue tint. Astronomers aren’t quite sure what compound causes the blue tint and theorize it may the result of the absorption of red light by methane in the planets mostly hydrogen-helium atmosphere. Neptune can’t be seen with the naked eye, so get your hands on a good telescope or high-powered binoculars and a current star chart.
March 24–September 10 (brightest July 16–September 10)
January 1–February 20
September 11–December 31 (brightest September 11–November 5)
Please note all the images of the planets depicted in this story are stock photography/artist’s renderings and not actual photographs.
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