Feature | July 19, 2018

Look Up: Parade of Planets

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    labeled planets in photo of night sky
    Part of our solar system, along with other stars of the Milky Way galaxy, as seen over Lone Rock in Skull Valley, Utah. This view was captured facing approximately south at about 1 a.m. on July 15, 2018. Click to download a full-size version. Credit: NASA/Bill Dunford

    This summer's night sky offers an embarassment of riches to skywatchers—with or without a telescope.

    Mars reaches opposition on July 27, when Earth, Mars and the Sun are lined up, with Earth directly in the middle. What's more, on July 31 Mars makes its closest approach to Earth as both orbit the Sun. All this means that now is the time to catch the Red Planet glowing brightly with its unmistakable coppery color. A telescope should reveal some surface features, although a planet-wide dust storm is currently raging across the Martian surface, masking details that would otherwise be visible.

    star chart

    You can't miss Jupiter and Saturn as well, which also reached opposition in recent weeks. A pair of binoculars will show Jupiter's four largest moons, and a telescope will reveal Saturn's rings, which are on full display right now.

    Near Saturn, the brightest asteroid right nowVestacan be seen for the next several months, even with the unaided eye. A star chart will come in handy when looking for the asteroid among the nearby stars.

    What's more, the year's most popular meteor shower, the Perseids, is coming in August. Throughout it all, the countless stars of the Milky Way provide a shimmering backdrop for anyone who is able to stargaze under dark skies.

    See more sky watching tips in the latest What's Up? videos.