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

This season, the speediest and most elusive of the planets leaves the morning sky, passes behind the Sun, and reappears in the evening. At the beginning of April, Mercury is barely visible very low in the east just before dawn and is almost at greatest western elongation, which occurs on April 11. That's when its angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth is as wide as it can get (nearly 28 degrees). Following maximum elongation, Mercury retreats into the Sun's glow and passes behind our star on May 21 (superior conjunction). It doesn't re-emerge from the glow until early June, when you might be able to spot it very low in the west-northwest after sunset, very near Mars at mid-month (as little as a fifth-of-a-degree away on the 17th). Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation on June 23, when it sets almost 90 minutes after the Sun.

The razor-thin waning crescent Moon is very near Mercury on the mornings of April 2 and May 2, but these encounters are very close to the Sun and difficult to see. The Moon's pass on June 4 is as difficult, occurring in the early evening sky, when the Moon is a thin, day-old waxing crescent.



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

The only chance we have to see Venus is as the "morning star" in the east, although slightly closer to dawn each morning. In effect, it's gradually descending into the Sun's glow and disappears around mid-May, spending nearly the rest of the year hidden from view as it crosses behind the Sun and re-emerges in the evening sky in November.

The waning crescent Moon can be seen near Venus (with increasing difficulty) very low in the east-southeast just before dawn on April 2, May 2, and June 1.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

The Red Planet is the only easily visible planet in the early evening sky, located against the stars of Taurus the Bull in April and entering Gemini the Twins in mid-May. Its angular separation from the Sun is gradually shrinking, so it sets slightly earlier each evening, passing very close to Mercury on June 17. Late in June, it's too close to the Sun's glow to be seen.

The waxing crescent Moon passes close to Mars on the evenings of April 8, May 7, and June 5, each encounter occurring lower in the west after sunset than the previous month's.



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

Rising in the east at about 1:30 am at the beginning of April, the second-brightest planet is in retrograde motion, slowly moving only seven degrees east-to-west against the stars during the season. During this time, it never leaves the stars of Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer. Rising about four minutes earlier from night to night, it rises around 11:15 at the beginning of May and about 9 pm at the start of June, reaching opposition on June 10, when it's located opposite the Sun in the sky and rises at sunset. Although the number of moons orbiting Jupiter was recently revised to at least 79, only the four largest are easily seen in medium-size telescopes (and even in steadily-mounted binoculars).

The Moon is seen very near Jupiter—about two degrees away—when both rise just after midnight on the morning of April 23. They're a bit farther apart—nearly six degrees—when they rise together around 10:30 pm on May 19, and are again 6-7 degrees apart on June 15-16.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

The Ringed Planet rises before dawn, located about 25 degrees east of Jupiter, rising at about 3 the beginning of April, a little after 1 am at the beginning of May, and at about 4 am at the beginning of June, all while staying within the stars of Sagittarius the Archer. Through a medium-size telescope, Saturn's rings can be seen easily, even from 1.5 billion kilometers (nearly 1 billion miles) away. They were observed by Galileo, but his crude telescopes couldn't resolve their true nature, and he described them in his notes as "ears" or "handles." They were finally resolved in the mid-1600s by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who described them as a disk surrounding the planet, nowhere touching its surface. He also discovered Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which can even be seen in amateur-grade instruments..

The Moon can be seen near Saturn on the mornings of April 25 and May 23 and on the night of June 18.


Sunrise & Sunset Table

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

April 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:55 am | 1:13 pm | 7:33 pm 
All times PDT

May 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:14 am | 1:06 pm | 8:00 pm
All times PDT

June 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
5:50 am | 1:07 pm | 8:26 pm
All times PDT