Solar system showing relative size of (but not distance between) planets.

Keep tabs on our planets with Morrison Planetarium's quarterly guide to planetary activity.


The planet Mercury, image by NASA/JPL

The smallest of the planets is a predawn object at the beginning of the season, rising about 30 minutes before dawn and probably too difficult to see in the growing twilight. It is already descending toward the Sun's glow and is in superior conjunction (passing behind the Sun) on May 4. Re-emerging in the predawn sky a few weeks later, it passes near bright Venus on May 21, when both are very low in the west-northwest just after sunset, separated by only one degree of arc.

Before the two can get too far apart, the razor-thin, 2-day old waxing crescent Moon briefly joins them on May 23, forming a remarkable triplet, visible but challenging very low in the west-northwest less than an hour after sunset. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on June 4, with a separation of only 24 degrees from our star and setting 1 hour and 49 minutes after it. By mid-June, Mercury retreats back into the Sun's glow and disappears from view, passing inferior conjunction on June 30.

Aside from the striking May 21 grouping of Venus, Mercury, and the Moon mentioned above, the Moon's other passes near Mercury on the morning of April 21 and evening of June 21 are too close to the Sun to be seen.



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

Having passed greatest eastern elongation at the end of March, Venus is located near the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus the Bull on April 1. It dominates the early evening twilight, but descends slowly into the Sun's glow, even as it moves slowly eastward across Taurus. In early May, it gets about 1.5 degrees from the star El Nath (the tip of the Bull's northern horn), then reverses its motion, moving westward against the stars and finally vanishing into the Sun's glow by the end of the month. Passing inferior conjunction on June 3, Venus eventually moves into the morning sky and becomes visible around mid-month as it slowly climbs out of the predawn twilight.

Elusive Mercury passes very close to Venus May 21, and both can be seen in the evening twilight, about a degree apart, very low in the west-northwest and setting together about an hour and a half after sunset..

The waxing crescent Moon passes near Venus on the evening of April 26. Its encounter on May 23 (with Mercury also nearby) may be extremely difficult to observe in the setting Sun's glow, as will its close pairing just before dawn on June 19.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

An hour before sunrise on April 1, the Red Planet is about 18 degrees high in the southeast, about one degree from Saturn, with Jupiter shining brightly six degrees to the right. As the two giant planets follow the stars and gradually shift westward 73 degrees through June 30, Mars moves 60 eastward, more or less maintaining its position with respect to the Sun and continuing to be seen in the southeast each morning.

The waning Moon passes near Mars on the mornings of April 16, May 14-15, and June 12-13.



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

The largest planet in our Solar System is a bright predawn object at the beginning of April, easily outshining nearby Mars and Saturn, which are closely-paired low in the southeast just before dawn. By the beginning of May, Jupiter has moved slightly more toward the south an hour before dawn, with fainter Saturn about five degrees to its left and Mars increasing its distance to their east. By June 1, Jupiter and Saturn are due south an hour before dawn, a little closer together and snuggled between the stars of Sagittarius the Archer and Capricornus the Sea-Goat.

The Moon passes near Jupiter on the mornings of April 14-15, May 12, and June 8.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

Saturn's appearances mirror Jupiter's this season, since the two slow-moving planets are so close together the whole time. The Ringed Planet and Mars are close together at the start of the season, but quickly move apart as Jupiter and Saturn stay cozy (six degrees apart or less). They follow the general drift of the stars toward the west, keeping station between the constellations Sagittarius and Capricornus.

The waning Moon can be seen near Saturn on the mornings of April 15, May 12, and June 9.


Sunrise & Sunset Table

Times are for San Francisco, California (PDT) and will vary slightly for other locations.

April 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:54 am | 1:13 pm | 7:33 pm 

May 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:13 am | 1:06 pm | 8 pm

June 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
5:49 am | 1:07 pm | 8:26 pm


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