Both Jupiter and Saturn will be big and bright in July, 2020! Next up is Saturn is at “opposition” to the Sun on the 20th. This is some amazing, easy backyard stargazing—no charts needed! Here are details on when to watch the planets from Almanac astronomer Bob Berman.
During the month of July, 2020, go out any night you’re in the mood and you’re in for a treat! Here are the highlights:
Vega, the Bright Blue Star
Directly overhead is a bright blue star. This is the famous Vega, twice as heavy as our Sun, and the future North Star 12,000 years from now. Vega was the fictional location of the aliens in the movie Contact, even if Jodie Foster and everyone else wrongly pronounced it “VAY-ga.” Actually, it was WE-ga until around a century ago, a name that came from the old Arabic and meant a falling eagle. Today, it’s properly pronounced VEE-ga.
Jupiter and Saturn at Their Brightest
Also at midnight, much lower in the south, spot the brightest “star” in the whole sky—that’s Jupiter! You can’t miss it! To Jupiter’s left is Saturn. If you have a small telescope, this is where to point it.
Both Jupiter and Saturn will reach “opposition” in July 2020! Opposition is when Earth is passing between a planet and the Sun, placing the planet opposite to the Sun in our sky.
What this means: A planet at opposition is at its nearest and brightest! Plus, the planets shine all night from sunset until dawn. It’s an amazing time to stargaze (and take photographs).
Jupiter at Opposition on July 14
- Jupiter reaches opposition on July 14, 2020, at 08:00 UTC. That translates to 4 A.M. EDT, 3 A.M. CDT, 2 AM. MDT and 1 A.M. PDT. The Earth will pass between the King Planet and the Sun so Jupiter will approach its closest point to Earth. (Technically, the opposition is the 14th and Jupiter is closest to Earth on the 15th since the planets’ orbits are elliptical, not perfect circles.)
- So, both the nights of the 14th and 15th of July are excellent times to observe and photograph Jupiter at its closest and brightest for the year. Jupiter will be out all night, reaching its highest point around midnight.
Saturn at Opposition
- On July 20, Saturn has its own opposition to the Sun; the Ringed Planet approaches its closet point to Earth, shining at its brightest for the year. With the new Moon on the same night and no moonshine to interfere, Saturn viewing should be as good as it gets!
- Watch for Saturn in the evening sky at twilight—as darkness falls and the faintest stars start to emerge. See astronomical twilight times for your location.
- Look in the southeastern direction. You’ll first see brilliant Jupiter, which looks brighter now that it will all year. Just to the left (east) is golden Saturn. It’s not surprising that they’re this close since Jupiter just had its own opposition. See the planet rise and set times for your location.
- Techically, Saturn comes closest to Earth for the year about 5 hours after it reaches opposition, but the times won’t matter too much. For those interested, the exact times are 6 P.M. EDT, 5 P.M. CDT, 4 P.M. MDT, and 3 P.M. PDT.
Mars After Midnight
People who have a flat, oceanlike, perfectly unobstructed eastern horizon—meaning those with beach homes on the East Coast, and many in Kansas too—might see a brilliant orange star just popping up due east at midnight, balancing on the horizon like a beacon on a distant cell phone tower. For the rest of us, give it another hour to get high enough to easily see.
It’s Mars! Brilliantly riveting, it will keep brightening further every passing night until it reaches its closest approach to us three months from now. In October, Mars will surpass Jupiter in brightness.
Just look low in the east after midnight until dawn for a relatively bright object with a distinct reddish hue. That’s Mars!
Even without the Moon, bright Mars will still be easy to find. Rising in the East on its own after midnight, Mars is not as bright as Jupiter or Venus, but it’s also not near any other planet nor bright star. On the sky’s dome, it’s found midway between Jupiter and Venus. (Jupiter and Saturn are out all night in the SOUTH. Venus doesn’t rise until pre-dawn in the NORTHEAST.)
By the month’s end, Mars will rise an hour or so earlier (11 P.M. Eastern time). See rise and set times.
Venus Now a Morning Star
Finally, insomniacs and early risers can look in that same eastward direction between 4:30 and 5 AM to see the truly extraordinary brilliance of the Morning Star—Venus.
Mark July 17 on your calendar, because on that Friday morning, Venus will be joined by the crescent Moon and Taurus’ orange star Aldebaran in a breathtaking three-way conjunction. For now, enjoy it at that pre-dawn hour because it’s at its very brightest, easily outshining brilliant orange Mars now nicely up in the south, and even besting Jupiter setting in the west.
Four eye-catching planets, plus a pair of famous orange and blue stars. Easy and cool.
And the price is right, too.