science

Australian stargazers will be able to see Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus in astronomical event 


Stargazers are in for a treat tonight when Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus all become visible to the naked eye. 

The planets will appear bigger and brighter as they are approaching ‘opposition’ – the point when they are at their closest point to Earth in their orbits. 

All will be visible to the unaided eye, but a pair of binoculars or small telescope will reveal extra detail, such as the larger moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.      

In the UK, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible all through the night tonight until the early hours of Thursday. 

Meanwhile, Mars will rise at around 12:20am and Venus will rise just before 3am, at which point there will be four of our Solar System’s planets visible in the sky. 

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Stargazers are in for a treat as an astronomical event approaches - four planets in our Solar System will become visible in the night's sky

Stargazers are in for a treat as an astronomical event approaches – four planets in our Solar System will become visible in the night’s sky

‘It’s a good chance for anyone with a telescope to do a grand tour of our Solar System!’ Dr Matt Bothwell at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, told MailOnline. 

WHAT IS A PLANET IN OPPOSITION?  

Opposition is when two celestial bodies appear in opposite directions in the sky from Earth. 

The Moon, when full, is said to be in opposition to the Sun; the Earth is then approximately between them. 

A superior planet (one with an orbit farther from the Sun than Earth’s) is in opposition when Earth passes between it and the Sun. 

The opposition of a planet is a good time to observe it, because the planet is then at its nearest point to the Earth and in its full phase. 

The planets Venus and Mercury, whose orbits are smaller than Earth’s, can never be in opposition to the Sun.   

2020 dates for planets in opposition:

Jupiter: 14 July

Saturn: 20 July

Neptune: 11 September 

Mars: 13 October

Uranus: 31 October 

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica/Royal Museums Greenwich

‘Incidentally, Uranus and Neptune are also up – Neptune rises about quarter to midnight, and Uranus about 1am – but these two are too distant to be visible with the naked eye.’ 

Throughout the month different planets will reach prime ‘opposition’, becoming even clearer to the naked eye.   

Opposition occurs when the planets are on the direct opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. 

In effect, Earth will be between the planets and the Sun, meaning Earth-dwellers will be able to look up at the night sky and gaze at them both.  

‘They are closest and most fully illuminated form the Earth’s perspective at these times, and so are at their brightest,’ astronomer Dr Greg Brown from the Royal Observatory Greenwich told MailOnline.  

Jupiter is expected to reach opposition on July 14 and Saturn should be easily viewed on July 20. 

However, the planets are becoming increasingly bigger and brighter in the night’s sky as these dates approach.   

Saturn and Jupiter will rise at around 10pm tonight, with Mars later on, about 20 minutes past midnight, and Venus just before dawn at around 3am. 

To see all of the them at the same time, they are currently all visible at around 3:30am, according to Dr Brown.

However, all these times will shift earlier and earlier as the days go on. 

In the UK, Venus will appear low in the east, Mars slightly higher in the southeast and Jupiter and Saturn close together in the south-southwest.   

The opposition with Mars – which happens around once every 26 months – will happen in mid-October.

But stargazers will be able to notice the bight reddish dot that is Mars become steadily brighter until this time. 

The opposition of a planet is a good time to observe it, because the planet is then at its nearest point to the Earth and in its full phase. 

‘Opposition occurs roughly once per year for most “superior planets” – planets further from the Sun than the Earth,’ said Dr Brown. 

‘Venus never reaches opposition as it is an “inferior planet” – a planet closer to the Sun than the Earth. 

‘However, it has recently been too close to the Sun in the sky to be visible and it is becoming more visible and rising earlier before the Sun.’  

The planets will appear bigger and brighter as they are approaching 'opposition' - the point when they are at their closest point to Earth in their orbits

The planets will appear bigger and brighter as they are approaching ‘opposition’ – the point when they are at their closest point to Earth in their orbits

MARS OPPOSITIONS UNTIL 2037 

October 13 2020

December 08 2022

January 16 2025

February 19 2027

March 25 2029

May 04 2031

June 27 2033

September 15 2035

November 19 2037

Source: Professor Courtney Seligman, UCLA 

Jacquie Milner from Mount Burnett Observatory said that in Australia from July 12, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the east just after sunset for the entire night.

After midnight stargazers will be able to spot Mars, which will appear as a red star, Ms Milner told 7news, while Venus would be rising around 4am from that date. 

‘Venus is the brightest planet, outshining all the stars. It is near the V-shaped face of Taurus the Bull.

‘Mercury will be visible in the morning twilight to the lower right of Venus during the third week of July.’  

Throughout the month different planets will reach prime ‘opposition’, becoming even clearer to the naked eye. 

Jupiter is expected to reach opposition on July 14 and Saturn should be easily viewed on July 21.

Ms Milner warned Mars won’t be at its best until October when it reaches opposition to Earth. 

‘The cycle from good to bad takes 17 years, and the last one in 2018 was near the best it could be, but the view was ruined by a global dust storm on Mars.’

There are now apps to help keen stargazers to track planets across the night sky, including Star Chart, Sky Safari and Skyview.  

KEY TIMES AND DATES TO SEE PLANETS

From July 12: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus will be visible to the naked eye

  • Jupiter and Saturn will be visible after sunset
  • Mars will be visible after midnight
  • Venus will visible at 4am

July 14:  The best night to see Jupiter

July 21:  The best night to see Saturn



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