In this article we’ll talk about which planets are visible to the naked eye. Later this month the five naked-eye planets will reunite for an hour after sunset. Then over the next two weeks they’ll be visible again for a half-hour each night. Until then though you’ll have to look up from your computer screen to see them. But don’t worry it’s not as difficult as it seems.
One of the five brightest planets that can be seen with the naked eye is Mercury. Mercury is very close to the Sun and never stray far from it in our sky. This is why it is sometimes called the ‘elusive planet’. In actuality Mercury is quite easy to see but you have to be patient and find a clear horizon. Here are the best times to observe Mercury:
If you live in the northern hemisphere the best time to view Mercury is at sunrise and sunset on November 11 or later. The planet will gradually lose brightness and gain altitude as it moves away from the Sun. This apparition is best viewed in mid-northern skys where the crescent Moon will be visible above Mercury. A great view of Mercury with the naked eye will allow you to notice subtle details and make out its complex pattern.
On Saturday Mercury will reach its maximum elongation a rare moment in the planet’s orbit around the Sun. This means that Mercury will appear the brightest just before sunrise. Mercury is also the closest planet to Earth but its distance from the Sun doesn’t affect its brightness to onlookers on Earth. It is worth checking out the planet when it’s at its closest point. There are no other planets that will be as close to the Earth as Mercury.
The following chart shows the best time to view the planets with the naked eye. On December 27 Mercury rose at 6:51 am. The sunrise that morning was at 7:15 am. Since Mercury rises at the same time as the Sun it was lost in the glare of the rising sun. A better time to view Mercury with the naked eye is when the crescent moon passes the star Regulus so the best viewing time is on the evening before sunrise.
If you’re wondering whether Venus can be seen with your naked eye then the answer is a resounding yes! The planet rises about 90 minutes before sunrise and will be visible in the constellation of Capricorn. Because it’s so close to Earth it is best seen in the morning when the sky is clear. However if you’re unable to see Venus during this time you can still see faint shadows of the planet.
As with the Moon Venus will have phases but these are not the same as those of the Earth. If you have good quality binoculars you can see Venus’ thin crescent phase which occurs when the planet is close to the Earth and the Sun. Some observers have even claimed that they’ve seen the crescent with the naked eye! For the record Venus will not be fully illuminated during the last week of May.
You can even photograph Venus with your own eyes. Here’s how: The photo at top was taken on March 13 1988 at 14:30 Pacific Standard Time. The photographer used an 80mm Brandon apochromatic refractor and a 20mm wide-angle eyepiece to project the image onto the film plane of a Nikkormat camera. The shutter speed was 1/250 second. The slide was taken from Muir Beach California.
When is Venus best visible to the naked eye? The planet will be brightest just after sunrise and at the closeest to the sun at sunset. This makes Venus a good candidate for visual observations. You can also view it during the day during favorable weather conditions. A good time to view Venus is during the evening when the sun is setting and before dawn. If you’re lucky Venus will be seen as a white bright light.
The dazzling planet Jupiter can be seen with the naked eye for most of the year. This dazzling planet is so far from Earth that its light is not as intense as that of the Sun. Despite this Jupiter is the third brightest object in the night sky and is only slightly outperformed by Mars when Mars is exceptionally well-placed. Jupiter’s distinctive shape is also a big reason why it is called the Gas Giant. While most bright stars are made of ice and other solid materials Jupiter is composed primarily of gases.
Although Jupiter is often overlooked it is not impossible to spot the planet with the naked eye especially if you know how to look. You can find Jupiter in the night sky using several free stargazing applications. When Jupiter is closest to Earth it is also the brightest object in the night sky. In fact you can even see its moons with binoculars! And if you are looking for the moons of Jupiter the planets Callisto and Ganymede can be seen with the naked eye.
To see Jupiter with your naked eye you need to look in the eastern sky. The planet will be visible one hour before sunrise. On April 18 it will be anchored in a row of four planets – Mars Earth Mars and Venus – from left to right. The planets will be close to each other during their conjunction on May 29 and you will be able to see the waning crescent Moon hanging to its lower left.
As you can see the planets are not very hard to spot with the naked eye but it is better to use binoculars to see them. When observing Jupiter make sure to check the sky for cloud cover. You may even be able to see Pluto the dwarf planet that lies underneath Jupiter. A 6-inch telescope can help you see Pluto the planet located just beneath Jupiter. And for Saturn a smaller telescope can bring up the dwarf planet Pluto.
If you’re a curious astronomer you may be wondering whether Saturn can be seen with the naked eye. You can see the planet’s rings but they are too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Instead of using a telescope to view the rings you can simply look at Saturn in the night sky. Observers will notice that the planet appears three-dimensional with a 6-inch telescope. In fact they might be able to discern the shadow cast on the planet by the ring further away. This helps to make the image of Saturn appear more vivid.
Although Saturn isn’t directly visible to the naked eye you can see its rings through a telescope. The rings are incredibly detailed and the Cassini Division (between the A and B rings) is a good test of how clear the night’s seeing is and how good your telescope’s optics are. If you’re able to see all of the details in the rings you’ll be able to see the moon Titan.
While Jupiter and Mars are visible to the naked eye their bright brightness makes them easy to confuse for stars. However planets don’t generate their own light and they simply reflect sunlight back into space. So while you might think they’re similar in appearance the brightness of each will depend on its size distance from the sun and its position in relation to the Earth. You can also spot these five planets with your naked eye at various times of the year.
Although Saturn can be seen with the naked eye astronomers recommend that you use a telescope for the best views. With a telescope you’ll be able to see the planet’s rings and moons but it may be better to use a telescope for the best view. Jupiter one of the five brightest planets in the sky gives off a very bright white light. Even its moons cannot be seen with the naked eye.
If you’re looking for the perfect spot to view the planet Mars with the naked eye then it’s best to observe it at the time of opposition with the sun. On Sunday March 25 Mars will be opposite the sun in Earth’s sky. This will be its closest approach to Earth in over a decade. The planet rises when the sun sets and is visible all night. The Hubble Space Telescope captured this stunning image of Mars near opposition.
To view Mars with the naked eye you should first find a spot that’s clear of light pollution. Mars is brightest during its closest approach to the Earth which happens about every two years. If you can’t wait until this period to observe the planet you can also download the Sky Map app on your smartphone and look up into the sky. Afterward point your phone toward a small patch of sky and use the app to find visible objects.
If you’d like to observe other planets with the naked eye you can also look at the Earth and Venus. The moon is also visible though Jupiter is nearer to the earth than Mars. In addition to Earth and Venus you can also see Jupiter Saturn and Neptune if you are lucky enough. If you look at Mars at the right time of the night you can also see Neptune and Saturn.
In 2020 there are four good times to view the planet. On August 9 and 10 Mars will rise around the same time as the Moon. The distance between the two bodies is just 1.5 degrees during the night and then draw apart before dawn. These conjunctions are exceptional and will make the planet easy to view with the naked eye. If you’d like to view Mars in conjunction with other members of the Solar System try observing it at perihelic opposition.