Are you a budding astronomer? Do you look up at the cosmos in awe, wondering how it could all be so big? Or perhaps you’re a more amateur stargazer, who has always heard that the planets can be seen from earth, but has never seen them before?
Sometimes you need somebody to tell you where and when to look to see them – that’s why we’ve created this short guide.
We will go through each of the major planets in our solar system, to give guidance on how and when you can see each of them in the night sky, including the kind of telescope you might need to view them. We’ve also included a short FAQ to cover some of the more common questions you might have regarding spotting the planets in the night sky.
Visibility Of The Planets By The Year
The first thing that is important to note, before we explore when each planet is visible, is that the planets will not always be visible during specific times of year in the same way other natural phenomena might be. Because of the different orbits of different planets, the time of year you might see them in can vary. Below are some estimates for the time this article was written.
Mercury is the first planet in our solar system and the closest to the sun. Because of this, it is most likely you quill see it during the early morning, or at twilight. It most commonly appears to the human eye more like a star than anything else, with a slightly golden glow.
In the morning mercury is most visible from these periods – January 31 to March 16 and June 2 to July 3. If you go out during these mornings you might be able to see it. Conversely, if you’re looking to see Mercury during the evening, then the best times are between April 18 to May 10th and December 7th to December 31st.
Next up is Venus, which is one of the brightest objects we can see in the night sky. It’s fairly likely you’ve already seen Venus without knowing it. Venus is similar to earth in terms of size, as well as one of the only other objects in our solar system that we’ve taken a photo of its surface.
It can most often be seen a few hours after the sun sets, or just before sunrise. Venus looks mostly like a very bright star. You’re likely to see venus in the mornings between January and August, and in the evening in December.
Mars is probably one of the most known and loved planets in our solar system. Since humanity first landed on the moon, we have all collectively set our sights on Mars as the next step in space exploration.
Since then we have sent several probes and rovers to explore its surface, with plans to one day embark on a manned mission to the red planet. For most of us living today, it’s very unlikely we’ll ever set foot on its barren surface, but all of us can see it in the night sky.
Mars looks like a star in the sky, with a yellow to orange glow, though how bright it massively depends on the time of year. Mars can be seen in the morning at the beginning of the year but is most visible in October. Mars has one of the largest ranges in which you can spot it in the sky, from January all the way to early December.
Jupiter, often known as the Great Gas Giant, is one of the brighter objects in the sky. Even though it’s far away, the sheer size of Jupiter, as well as its color, allows us to sometimes see it clearly. Although some of its more distinct features, such as its gigantic red spot – which is actually a massive storm that produces winds of up to 432 km/h – are not visible to the naked eye, however, they can be observed with a telescope.
You’ll most likely be able to see Jupiter in the mornings from March to September, and in the evenings between January the 1st to February the 9th, as well as in September to late December.
Saturn is the last planet of our solar system you’ll be able to see with your own eyes. After this, you’ll need the help of a telescope. As with Jupiter, its more famous details such as its gorgeous rings are not visible to the naked eye, but we can still see it in the sky as a bright, star-like object.
In the mornings you’ll be able to see Saturn from February through to the end of the summer. For evenings, you’ll be able to see it during a small slice of January (ending at around the 17th).
This is the first planet so far away that it’s impossible to see by humans without help. Uranus is the seventh planet away from the sun and it was first spotted in 1781 by William Herschel, an astronomer. Named after the Greek God of the sky, it is blue in color and often called an ‘ice giant.’
You’re most likely to see Uranus in the mornings between May and November and in the evenings between January and April, and then again from early November to late December. It’s very important to note that you will only be able to see Uranus with a telescope, but it doesn’t have to be a super powerful one. Through your telescope, it will look something like a small green/blue disc in the sky.
Neptune is also labeled as an ‘ice giant’ like its brother Uranus and is the eighth planet from the sun. It is made of a multitude of different ‘icy’ materials such as ammonia, water, and methane. Like any of the gas/ice giant planets in our solar system, it would be impossible to stand on, but that makes it particularly pretty for us to view through a telescope.
In the mornings you’ll be able to use your telescope to see Neptune from late March to mid-September. In the evenings it will be visible from January through to the end of February, and then again from mid-September to the end of December.
We hope that this article has given you some idea of when you’ll be able to see different planets in our solar system throughout the year. Of course, the main eight planets mentioned in this guide are not all of the planets you’ll be able to see, there are many dwarf planets as well as other bodies visible with the right equipment and technique.
Happy stargazing! We hope you get to see all of the solar system!
Do The Planets Change Each Year?
The short answer to this is no, the planets change depending on the time of year. Whilst stars may stay the same, smaller bodies such as planets and asteroids will differ depending on the year because of orbit. The times given in this guide are relative to when this article was written.
Do I Need A Telescope To See The Planets?
Only some of the planets in our solar system are visible without a telescope. In order – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all visible to the naked eye. It’s worth noting here that they mostly look like stars in the night’s sky, so you may have seen them already but not know what they are.
They can be identified by their relative position in the sky as well as their color. As for the further planets such as Uranus and Neptune, you will need a telescope to be able to see them.
If you would like to see any of the planets in greater detail, you will have to invest in more specialized astronomy equipment.
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