Planetary lineup: How long can you see it?

Planetary lineup: Chart: arced green line with labeled dots along it representing planets.
The first few days of July continues the opportunity to see an unusual planetary lineup with all 5 bright planets lying in order from the sun in the morning sky. Mercury hugs the morning horizon, then brilliant Venus, followed by red Mars, bright Jupiter and finally, Saturn. And, don’t forget our planet, the one you are standing on, Earth! You’ll be able to see the 5 planets until Mercury slips away in the morning twilight in early July. Chart via John Jardine Goss.

Rare planetary lineup

For most of June 2022, you could spot the rare lineup of 5 planets arcing across the sky before sunrise. Now it’s July, and you still have a little time left to spot all 5 planets before Mercury drops back into the sunrise glare. It so happens they’re arrayed in our sky in the same order as their orbits outward from the sun. Mercury hugs the sunrise horizon, and Venus shines brightly above it. Then – if you follow the sun’s path upward across our sky – you can see red Mars, bright Jupiter and finally golden Saturn. And don’t forget the planet you’re standing on, Earth! Our view of the five planets won’t end until Mercury slips away into the morning twilight, not long after July begins.

All the planets in our solar system (more or less) in a single plane. So you’ll find them along a graceful line in our sky (the sun’s path, or ecliptic). The line of planets stretches up from the sunrise … toward the south as seen from the Northern Hemisphere … toward the north as seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Mercury – our sun’s innermost planet – is nearest the sunrise.

And if you have patience and binoculars, you might also hunt down the two challenging, faint planets – Uranus and Neptune – hiding among the bright planets. Read more about Uranus and Neptune here.

The planetary lineup began in early June

Mercury – the innermost planet and fastest-moving of the 5 planets in our sky – has been the lynchpin for seeing all five planets together. We couldn’t see all five at once until Mercury appeared above the sunrise point around June 10. The innermost planet swiftly separated itself from the sun in our sky, ascending toward its greatest western elongation – when it’s farthest from the sun in the morning sky – on June 16.

And now Mercury is dropping back into the sunrise glare. It’s visible only with difficulty in early July and will soon disappear. Mercury will pass behind the sun on July 16. It will come back into view in our evening sky, to be visible with difficulty in evening twilight by the end of July 2022.

Planetary lineup: Chart with 5 labeled dots along a line stretching across the morning sky.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn … that’s their order outward from the sun, and it’s the order you’ll see in the 2022 planetary lineup, stretched across our morning sky. And don’t forget a 6th planet: the one you are standing on, Earth! You’ll be able to see all 5 planets with the unaided eye until Mercury slips away in the morning twilight in early July. Chart via John Jardine Goss.

The moon passed the planetary lineup

The moon visited each of the planets in the lineup in late June. The waning gibbous and crescent moon passed Saturn on the 18th, Jupiter on the 21st, Mars on the 22nd, Venus on the 26th and Mercury on the 27th. See images of these events below.

5 bright planets shifting apart

Maybe you noticed how the planets shifted from June 10, when Mercury first appeared, to the end of the month. While they stayed in order, the space between them on our sky’s dome appeared to expand. Mars and Jupiter were particularly close, coming off a conjunction at the end of May. They continued to separate throughout June. Jupiter is moving swiftly toward its September 26 opposition.

At the beginning of the June 2022 planetary lineup, the five planets stretched across 92 degrees of sky. In other words, the line of planets takes up about half the sky. By June 30, the distance between first and last planets in the lineup, Mercury and Saturn, grew to 116 degrees.

Most of the planets retained a similar brightness throughout June, but Mercury slowly brightened each morning. Mercury grows brighter as it edges ever nearer to the sun on our sky’s dome. Its nearness to the sun is what will bring this lineup of five planets to an end. Eventually, Mercury will be submerged in the light of dawn.

Uranus and Neptune

If you want to spot Uranus and Neptune, you’re going to need a little help. A good star chart and a pair of binoculars should do the trick. Try Stellarium to find the locations of Uranus and Neptune on the nights you wish to observe.

Uranus, the brighter of the two, started June closer to the horizon than Venus but ended the month higher in the sky than Venus. The best opportunity to find Uranus was when it passes Venus around June 11. From the Northern Hemisphere, Uranus was to the upper left of Venus, about three full-moon widths away. On June 12, Venus was about the same distance from Uranus but almost directly below it.

Neptune doesn’t have anything as handy as a bright planet passing by to help you track it down. (That opportunity was on May 18 when Mars passed less than a half degree below Neptune.) Neptune is between Jupiter and Saturn, though much closer to Jupiter. It lies below the circlet of Pisces. You can find it on a star chart and then hop your way to it.

The path of the ecliptic

Now, if you know that the planets all trace the same path – called the ecliptic – because they’re all in the same plane of our solar system, you’ll know that the planets are all essentially “in a lineup” all the time. It’s just that most of the time the planets aren’t close enough together for you to easily distinguish that line. Often some planets will be in the morning sky while others are in the evening sky, so not all planets are visible above the horizon at the same time.

Take advantage of this special opportunity to see them all lined up together across the morning sky.

Photos from the EarthSky community (late June)

8 images in a grid showing the moon in different positions along line of planets.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Meiying Lee in Taipei, Taiwan, took these images of the moon and planets in late June. Meiying wrote: “During the June planetary season, 5 planets visible to the naked eye – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – line up in the sky from east to south each morning. Since the positions of the planets are similar every day, why do people get up early every day to observe them? The answer is the Earth’s satellite: the moon! Because the moon rises about 48 minutes later each day, its position changes every day, and the shape of the moon gets thinner and thinner. This is where the stars in the sky are fascinating, they look the same every day, and they change when you look closely!” Thank you, Meiying!
Panorama with skyline and objects in sky circled and labeled.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Nathan Eaton Jr. in Dallas, Texas, took this panorama on June 26, 2022. Nathan wrote: “In this image, I’ve added an enlarged inset of each object and labeled them to give everyone a more clear idea of what they are looking at … The surprise for Sunday was that I also captured the Pleiades star cluster, which many may know as the Seven Sisters (immortalized in the Subaru logo)!” Thank you, Nathan!
Near-vertical lineup of labeled dots in sky over a rooftop.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Nath Duminda in Ekala, Western Province, Sri Lanka, took this image on June 26, 2022. Nath wrote: “Planet Parade 2022.” Thank you, Nath!
Stars and planets are visible over the clouds. Venus is the brightest and is in the middle.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Colin Henshaw in Ville Noire, Mauritius, captured these planets and stars on June 28, 2022. Colin wrote: “Image taken during the lineup. Even a 28mm wide-angle lens couldn’t capture Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. But I could record the Pleiades, along with Aldebaran.” Thank you, Colin!
Stars over a mountain with their names written in English and Arabic.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Tameem Altameemi in United Arab Emirates photographed 4 bright planets, the moon and the Pleiades on June 26, 2022. Tameem wrote: “The planet alignment with the Pleiades and the waning crescent moon at 7%.” Thank you, Tameem!
The planets are aligned between some buldings and trees.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Matthew Chin captured this stunning photo of the 5 bright planets and the moon on June 23, 2022. Matthew wrote: “2022 five planets – celestial parade – in Yuen Long, Hong Kong. The order of the planets in the solar system, starting nearest the sun and working outward is the following: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus.” Thank you, Matthew!
Night sky full of stars with short trails, and planets as brighter trails.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | John Merriam in Vilano Beach, Florida, captured this planetary lineup on June 23, 2022. John wrote: “5-minute exposure of the planetary alignment, without Mercury due to the marine layer, with the International Space station streaking through the shot, and transiting Jupiter.” Thank you, John!
Mercury, Venus, the moon, Mars and Jupiter are aligned, creating a diagonal from bottom left to upper right.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Evelyn Dupree in Surfside Beach, Texas, captured this beautiful photo on June 23, 2022. Evelyn wrote: “The stars have aligned! My attempt at the parade of planets captured this morning before sunrise! Saturn was too far right and didn’t make the frame. This rare planetary alignment won’t happen again until 2040!” Thank you, Evelyn!

Photos from the EarthSky community (mid June)

Fisheye view of sky with moon and planets labeled.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Meiying Lee in Taipei, Taiwan, took this image of the planets on June 21, 2022. Meiying wrote: “Today is the summer solstice and the sunrise is very early. In the early morning, despite the interference of thin clouds, the planets were still arranged in order from east to south in the sky. Mercury is the most difficult to observe. It rises from the already dimly lit sky at around 4 a.m., so to photograph 5 planets appearing in the sky at the same time, there is only a short 20 minutes to have a chance to photograph!” Thank you, Meiying! You can also see a video she took of the planets here.
All 5 visible planets and the moon are over the city of New York. Many buildings with lights on.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Alexander Krivenyshev captured this stunning photo of the 5 bright planets on June 20, 2022. Alexander wrote: “5 planets and the moon. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the moon align at dawn over New York City.” Thank you, Alexander!
Wide angle image of dark twilight with planets and moon across the sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Mike Shaw in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, captured this wonderful planetary parade image on June 17, 2022. Mike wrote: “This rare alignment of the visible planets in their order from the sun has been in the news lately, including several articles by EarthSky … Once I knew Mercury was a few degrees above the horizon, I started shooting images for the panorama.” Thank you, Mike!
Dark sky with 5 planets lined up in the sky with dark mountains in the foreground.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Elke Schulz in Río Hurtado, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, captured this great image of the 5 bright planets on June 15, 2022. Elke wrote: “This morning I was lucky and could observe the planet party … The Andes Mountains can be seen in the background (below Mercury). It features peaks more than 4,100 meters high.” Thank you, Elke!

Bottom line: Look now before sunrise to see the planetary lineup of the five bright planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – plus see photos here!

July 1, 2022

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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