Three of the five bright planets are easy to see in June, 2017: Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. Jupiter appears first thing at dusk and stays out until well after midnight. Saturn rises at dusk or nightfall and stays out for rest of the night. Venus rises before the sun and reaches its greatest elongation – its farthest point from the sun on our sky’s dome – on June 3, 2017. Mars and Mercury will be hard to spot this month. Mars is buried deep in the glare of evening twilight. Mercury swings behind the sun in June, thereby transitioning from the morning to evening sky. Follow the links below to learn more about the planets in June, 2017.
Bright Jupiter high up at nightfall. Jupiter reached opposition on April 7. That is, it was opposite the sun as seen from Earth then and so was appearing in our sky all night. The giant planet came closest to Earth for 2017 one day later, on April 8. So Jupiter shone at its brightest and best in April, never fear. It’ll still be blazing away in June! Jupiter beams as the third-brightest celestial body in the nighttime sky, after the moon and Venus. In June, Jupiter shines from dusk until well after midnight; meanwhile, Venus appears only before dawn.
Click here for an almanac telling you Jupiter’s setting time and Venus’ rising time in your sky.
Watch for a bright waxing gibbous moon to join up with Jupiter for several days, centered on or near June 3. See the above sky chart. Wonderful sight!
From the Northern Hemisphere, Jupiter appears in the southern sky at first thing at dusk; and from the Southern hemisphere, Jupiter appears high overhead as darkness falls. From all of Earth, Jupiter crosses the sky in a westerly direction throughout the night, as Earth spins under the sky. Jupiter sets in the west in June, in the wee hours after midnight.
If you have binoculars or a telescope, it’s fairly easy to see Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light all on or near the same plane. They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo, who discovered these great Jovian moons in 1610. In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
These moons orbit Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we were able to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons, through high-powered telescopes. Starting in late 2016, Jupiter’s axis began tilting enough toward the sun and Earth so that the farthest of these four moons, Callisto, has not been passing in front of Jupiter or behind Jupiter, as seen from our vantage point. This will continue for a period of about three years, during which time Callisto is perpetually visible to those with telescopes, alternately swinging above and below Jupiter as seen from Earth.
Saturn opposite the sun, visible all night. June, 2017 is really Saturn’s month because this planet reaches its yearly opposition on June 15. At opposition, Earth passes more or less between the sun and sun. Hence Saturn comes closest to Earth for the year, shines at its brightest in our sky and stays out all night.
In other words, this is a great month for watching Saturn!
Saturn rises about an hour after sunset in early June 2017. It rises in the southeast as seen from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and more due east from the Southern Hemisphere. By the month’s end, Saturn will be above the horizon as soon as darkness falls.
But your best view of Saturn, from either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, is around the midnight hour. That’s when Saturn climbs highest up for the night. Click here to find out Saturn’s transit time, when Saturn soars highest up for the night.
Be sure to let the year’s smallest full moon guide you to Saturn (and the nearby star Antares) on June 9.
Saturn, the farthest world that you can easily view with the eye alone, appears golden in color. It shines with a steady light.
Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, by the way, although binoculars will enhance Saturn’s color. To see the rings, you need a small telescope. A telescope will also reveal one or more of Saturn’s many moons, most notably Titan.
Saturn’s rings are inclined at nearly 27o from edge-on, exhibiting their northern face. In October 2017, the rings will open most widely for this year, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o.
As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.
Click here for recommended almanacs; they can help you know when the planets rise, transit and set in your sky.
Venus, brilliant in east at morning dawn Venus is always brilliant and beautiful, the brightest celestial body to light up our sky besides the sun and moon. If you’re an early bird, you can count on Venus to be your morning companion until nearly the end of 2017.
Venus reaches a milestone as the morning “star” when it extends to its greatest elongation from the sun on “>June 3, 2017. At this juncture, Venus is farthest from the sun on our sky’s dome. A telescope reveals Venus as half-illuminated in sunshine, like a first quarter moon. For the rest of the year, Venus will wax toward full phase.
Click here to know Venus’s present phase, remembering to select Venus as your object of interest.
Enjoy the picturesque coupling of the waning crescent moon and Venus in the eastern sky before sunrise for several mornings, centered on or near June 20.
From mid-northern latitudes (U.S. and Europe), Venus rises about two hours before the sun. By the month’s end, it’ll increase to two and one-half hours before sunrise
At temperate latitudes (Australia and South Africa) in the Southern Hemisphere, Venus rises nearly 4 hours before sunup all month long.
Click here for an almanac giving rising times of Venus in your sky.
The chart below helps to illustrate why we sometimes see Venus in the evening, and sometimes before dawn.
Mars fading into western evening twilight. Mars has had a good long run in our evening sky, but, in late May and June, the red planet is a fading ember of its former self. Mars is edging closer to the sunset day by day. It’ll disappear, if it hasn’t already, in the glare of evening dusk this month.
Because Earth is traveling faster in its orbit than Mars is, Earth’s distance from Mars is increasing day by day. So there are two reasons for Mars’ disappearing act this month. Its increasing distance from Earth means Mars’ brightness is decreasing. Plus, Mars is setting sooner after the sun with each passing day.
After June, Mars won’t be in view from Earth for several months. It’ll be in the sun’s glare, traveling more or less behind the sun from Earth.
Mars won’t officially transition from evening to morning sky until July 27, 2017, however. That’s the date on which Mars is most nearly behind the sun as seen from Earth, at what astronomers call superior conjunction. Look for Mars to emerge in the east before dawn in late September or October 2017. The conjunction of Mars and Venus on October 5, 2017, will likely present the first view of Mars in the morning sky for many skywatchers.
Mercury lost in glare of sun. When we say this, we’re really talking about the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury will still be in view in the morning sky during the first week of June. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, look for Mercury low in the east, beneath Venus, as the predawn darkness is giving way to morning dawn.
Mercury is tricky. If you look too soon before sunrise, Mercury will still be below the horizon; if you look too late, it’ll be obscured by the morning twilight. Watch for Mercury low in the sky, and near the sunrise point on the horizon, being mindful of Mercury’s rising time.
Throughout June, Mercury sinks closer to the sun day by day. It passes behind the sun on June 21, thereby transitioning over to the evening sky. After June 21, Mercury will be traveling east of the sun in our sky. It’ll be officially in the west after sunset. It’ll reach its greatest eastern elongation on July 30, 2017.
We expect Mercury to first become visible in the western evening twilight toward the end of the first week of July.
What do we mean by bright planet? By bright planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five bright planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets actually do appear bright in our sky. They are typically as bright as – or brighter than – the brightest stars. Plus, these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.
Bottom line: In June 2017, two of the five bright planets appear in the evening sky: Jupiter and Saturn. Venus is found exclusively in the morning sky. Mars and Mercury hide in the sun’s glare.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.