When will you be able to see the planets at their best in 2022? This guide will tell you.
It will also provide information about when a particular planet might be passing close to another, or a bright star, as well as the constellation that each will occupy during the course of the year. And you'll learn about the various circumstances — conjunctions, oppositions, and elongations — that are on this upcoming year’s schedule.
Let's get to it!
As an evening star, Mercury appears in the western sky, setting about an hour after the sun. As a morning star, it appears in the eastern sky, rising about an hour before the sun. There must be a clear, unobstructed horizon on these occasions. Mercury usually appears as a bright "star" with a yellowish or ochre hue. Evenings, from Jan. 1 to 15. Mornings, from Jan. 31 to Mar. 16. Evenings, from April 18 to May 10. Mornings, from June 2 to July 3. Evenings, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15. Mornings, from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17. Evenings, from Dec. 7 to Dec. 31.
Mercury will be brightest and easiest to spot in the evening sky from April 18 to May 10, and brightest and easiest to spot in the morning sky from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17.
Venus is always brilliant, and shining with a steady, silvery light. Evenings in the western sky at dusk from Dec. 23 to Dec. 31 of this year. Mornings in the eastern sky at dawn from Jan. 17 to Aug. 27, 2022.
Venus will attain its greatest brilliance in the morning sky on Feb. 13. During late January, and on into most of February in the morning sky, Venus will show a striking crescent phase in telescopes and steadily held binoculars. Venus and Jupiter will appear dramatically close to each other on the mornings of April 30 and May 1.
Shining like a "star" with a yellow-orange hue, Mars can vary considerably in brightness. This particular aspect will be vividly demonstrated in 2022, with Mars increasing in brightness and luster some 23-fold from New Year’s Day to early December.
Mars begins the year in the morning sky, shining as an inconspicuous second-magnitude object in the non-zodiacal constellation of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder. As the year progresses, Mars will slowly increase in brightness as its distance from Earth gradually decreases. Mars will pass quite close to Saturn on the morning of April 4 and to Jupiter on the morning of May 29. By the end of October, Mars will be shining at an eye-catching magnitude of minus 1.2 between the horns of Taurus, the Bull as it begins its retrograde motion.
Mars will be closest to the Earth on Nov. 30, at a distance of 50.6 million miles (81.4 million kilometers). Mars will arrive at opposition to the sun on Dec. 8, rising as the sun sets, reaching its highest point in the sky at midnight and setting at sunrise. It will then be shining at magnitude minus 1.9, outshining even Sirius, the brightest of all stars.
During the evening hours of Dec. 7, the full moon will pass exceedingly close above Mars, actually hiding it (called an occultation) for parts of North America, north of a line running from approximately San Antonio, to Frankfort, Kentucky to Kittery, Maine, no doubt evoking a question that will be repeated many times that night: "What is that bright yellow-orange star just below the moon?"
Quite brilliant with a silver-white luster, Jupiter starts the year in Aquarius the Water Carrier, crosses over into Pisces the Fishes on April 14, then moves into the non-zodiacal constellation of Cetus, the Whale on June 26. The giant planet backtracks into Pisces on Sept. 2, where it will remain for the balance of the year. Evenings from Jan. 1 to Feb. 13; mornings from March 26 to Sept. 25; evenings again from Sept. 26 to Dec. 31. Brightest in 2022 from Aug. 29 to Oct. 22.
Jupiter is at opposition to the sun on Sept. 26. Jupiter and Venus will rise side by side from above the eastern horizon on the morning of April 30 in an eye-catching sight. Although Jupiter will glow with a lustrous magnitude of minus 2, Venus manages to outshine it by two magnitudes and appears more than six times brighter. Jupiter will appear quite close to Mars on the morning of May 29.
Saturn shines like a yellowish-white "star" of moderate brightness. The famous rings are visible only in a telescope. They were at their maximum tilt toward Earth in October 2017 and are now closing to our line of sight, featuring an inclination of 17.6 degrees on New Year’s Day to 13.7 degrees by year’s end. The rings will turn edge-on to Earth during the spring of 2025.
All through 2022, Saturn will be found within the boundaries of Capricornus the Sea Goat. Evenings from Jan. 1 to Jan. 17; mornings from Feb. 22 to Aug. 13; evenings again from Aug. 14 to Dec. 31. Venus will pass to the upper left of Saturn on the morning of March 29 and Saturn will appear quite close to Mars on the morning of April 4. Brightest in 2022 from July 30 to Sept. 6. Saturn is at opposition to the sun on Aug. 14.
Uranus can be glimpsed as a naked-eye object by people who are blessed with good eyesight and a clear, dark sky, as well as a forehand knowledge of exactly where to look for it. At its brightest it shines at magnitude positive 5.6 and can be readily identified with good binoculars. A small telescope may reveal its tiny, greenish disk.
Uranus spends all of 2022 in the constellation of Aries the Ram. Evenings from Jan. 1 to April 18; mornings from May 22 to Nov. 8; evenings again from Nov. 9 to Dec. 31. Brightest in 2022 from Oct. 18 to Dec. 1. Uranus will arrive at opposition to the sun on Nov. 9.
Neptune starts 2022 in the constellation of Aquarius, the Water Carrier, but crosses over into Pisces, the Fishes on May 2. Neptune then backtracks into Aquarius again on Aug. 19, where it will remain for the rest of the year.
At a peak magnitude of positive 7.8, this bluish-hued world is only visible with good binoculars or a telescope. Evenings from Jan. 1 through Feb. 25; mornings from March 29 through Sept. 15; evenings again from Sept. 16 to Dec. 31. Brightest in 2022 from July 19 to Nov. 13. Opposition to the sun on Sept. 16.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.