Before daybreak on July 16, 17, 18 and 19, 2020, look east! You’ll see the two brightest objects of nighttime, the moon and the planet Venus, near each other. These two bright worlds will be hard to miss. Some people who are looking carefully might even continue to see them after sunrise. There’s another planet shown on the chart above: Mercury. It’s harder to find. You’ll find more about finding Mercury below.
Watch for the soft glow of earthshine illuminating the dark or night portion of the moon. Earthshine is twice-reflected sunlight. From the moon right now, Earth appears as a large gibbous sphere (more than half lighted but less than full). It’s big and bright in the lunar sky. Just as moonlight illuminates our earthly landscape when our moon is large and nearly full, so this nearly full Earth illuminates the lunar landscape. It’s this light that causes the glow of earthshine, visible whenever the moon is a crescent.
If you have a telescope, you know that Venus is in a crescent phase now, too. We’d love to see your photos. You can submit a photo to EarthSky here.
Jupiter, Saturn, Mars. In addition to Venus, there are three other bright planets easy to see before sunup now. The second brightest planet – Jupiter – is out from dusk until dawn, and thus it sits low in the western half of the sky before daybreak. Saturn is that bright golden object near Jupiter, just a short hop away all night long. Mars is much higher up, roughly midway between Venus and Jupiter.
Mercury. And there’s a fifth planet in the early morning sky. Far and away, Mercury – the solar system’s innermost planet – poses the biggest challenge of these morning planets. You might need binoculars to spot it in the glow of dawn. But if you’re game, the lit side of the lunar crescent serves as your arrow in the sky these next few mornings, pointing to Mercury’s approximate rising spot on the horizon. On July 19, the old whisker-thin lunar crescent will pass to the north of Mercury.
Bottom line: On the mornings of July 16, 17, 18 and 19, 2020, enjoy the beautiful presence of the waning crescent moon near Venus, the brightest planet. Look for them in the east, the sunrise direction.