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.
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)
Photos from the EarthSky community (mid June)
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!
Kelly Kizer Whitt has been a science writer specializing in astronomy for more than two decades. She began her career at Astronomy Magazine, and she has made regular contributions to AstronomyToday and the Sierra Club, among other outlets. Her children’s picture book, Solar System Forecast, was published in 2012. She has also written a young adult dystopian novel titled A Different Sky. When she is not reading or writing about astronomy and staring up at the stars, she enjoys traveling to the national parks, creating crossword puzzles, running, tennis, and paddleboarding. Kelly lives in Wisconsin.
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