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When, Where and How to See the Planets in the 2020 Night Sky

Wondering when you'll be able to see the planets at their best during 2020? Well, we've got you covered in this annual night sky guide. It will also provide information as to when a particular planet might be passing near to another, or a bright star, as well as the constellation that each will occupy during the course of the year as well as the various circumstances (conjunctions, oppositions, and elongations) that are on this upcoming year’s schedule.

So buckle up and mark your 2020 calendars. Here are the amazing planet sights to look for this year! 

Related: The 10 Must-See Skywatching Events of 2020
More:
January 2020 Night Sky: What You Can See This Month [Maps]

Mercury

NASA

Mercury,  

the smallest of the planets visible to the naked eye, will be an evening star, 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, but depening on the time of year, the planet is best sighted in the evening just after sunset or morning just before sunrise. Below is a guide to the year. 

Evenings: Jan. 26 to Feb.16.
Mornings: March 17 to April 7.
Evenings: May 21 to June 11.  
Mornings: July 15 to August 1.
Evenings: Sept. 17 to Oct. 8.
Mornings: Nov. 3 to Nov. 22.   

Mercury will be brightest and easiest to spot in the evening skies of 2020 from Jan. 26 to Feb.16, and brightest and easiest to spot in the morning skies of 2020 from Nov. 3 to Nov. 22. 

Mercury will appear very close to the bluish star Spica on Sept. 22.

Venus

NASA/JPL

Venus, the planet with the nearly circular orbit and a diameter only about 400 miles (600 km) less than the Earth is always brilliant, and shining with a steady, silvery light.  Evenings in the western sky at dusk from January 1st to May 24th; mornings in the eastern sky at dawn from June 13 to Dec. 31.  

The best time to view Venus in the evening sky in 2020 will come between the time of its greatest angular distance (elongation) east of the Sun on March 24 and its greatest brilliancy on April 27. On the latter date it will shine at an eye-popping magnitude of -4.7.

The best time to view Venus in the morning sky in 2020 will come between the time of its greatest brilliancy on July 10 and its greatest angular distance (western elongation) from the sun on Aug. 13. On the former date, it will again shine at a dazzling magnitude of -4.7.

Venus will appear exceedingly close to Neptune on Jan. 27, close to Mercury on May 22, and exceedingly close (less than two tenths of a degree) from the bluish-white star Regulus on Oct. 2. Venus and a slender crescent Moon will make for a lovely celestial tableau in the dawn skies of June 19.

Mars

NASA, J. Bell (Cornell U.) and M. Wolff (SSI)

Mars, shining like a "star" with a yellow-orange hue, can vary considerably in brightness. It will be visible before dawn in the mornings from Jan. 1 to Oct. 12, and then in the evenings from Oct. 13 to Dec. 31.  

Brightest in 2020: Mars will be at its brightest from Oct. 4 to Oct. 17. As was the case in 2018, this is a spectacular year for Mars.  

On Oct. 6 at 10:18 a.m. EDT, the planet will be at its closest to Earth in 2020; at that moment it will be 38.57 million miles (62.06 million km) away. Mars will start the year in the morning sky in Libra the Scales, rising soon after 4 a.m. At that time Mars will be 202.7 million miles (326.2 million km) away, and ranking as just a second magnitude object. But it will be approaching Earth at an average of 572,000 miles (920,000 km) per day and consequently will be getting slowly brighter. 

After May 15, Mars's increase in brightness will start becoming more noticeable: By June 1 it will reach zero magnitude while cruising through Aquarius the Water Carrier, shining low in the southeast sky during the predawn hours. 

On Aug. 21, now in the constellation Pisces the Fishes, it will rival Sirius, the brightest of all stars, rising above the eastern horizon around 10:15 p.m. So bright does it become that between Sept. 29 and Oct. 28 it will supplant mighty Jupiter as the second brightest planet and become the third brightest object in the nighttime sky (next to the Moon and Venus).  

Mars arrives at opposition to the sun on Oct. 13, still in Pisces, visible from dusk to dawn and shining at a head-turning magnitude of -2.7 — more than three times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky! After reaching this pinnacle, Mars will recede from Earth and gradually become dimmer through the balance of the year. 

By New Year's Eve, Mars will shine at a still-brilliant magnitude of -0.2 in eastern Pisces, northwest of the 4th magnitude star Al Risha which represents the knot that ties the two Fish together by ribbons at their tails. Mars finishes out the year crossing the meridian just before 7 p.m. and setting in the west around 1:30 a.m. 

On Feb. 18, a waning crescent moon will be very close to Mars and across the western half of North America the moon will appear to occult (hide) Mars before sunrise. Mars will pass close to Jupiter on May 20th and to Saturn on May 31. A waning gibbous Moon will appear close to Mars late on the night of Sept. 5.

Jupiter

A. Simon/NASA/ESA

In the night sky, Jupiter will look quite brilliant with a silver-white luster. It will be visible in the mornings from Jan. 15 to July 13, evenings from July 14 to Dec. 31. 

Through most of 2020, the king of the planets will be situated against the star background of Sagittarius, the Archer, where it will remain until mid-December, then it will move into the boundaries of the constellation Capricornus the Sea Goat. Jupiter will shine like a dazzling, non-twinkling, silvery "star."

Brightest in 2020:  July 11th to July 16th.  Jupiter is at opposition to the Sun on July 14th.  

Jupiter will appear close to Mars on March 20 and will be part of an incredibly close conjunction with Saturn on Dec. 21 (see special notation below). 

Saturn

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn shines like a yellowish-white "star" of moderate brightness. 

Its famous rings are only visible in a telescope. They were at their maximum tilt toward Earth in October 2017 and are now closing to our line of sight.  Saturn will begin 2020 in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer, but in late March it will move into the boundaries of Capricornus the Sea Goat. 

Thanks to retrograde motion, however, it will turn back to the west and reenter Sagittarius at the beginning of July. It will return to Capricornus by mid-December. Saturn will be primarily visible in the morning before dawn from Jan. 29 to July 19. It will be visible in the evening sky from July 20 to Dec. 31. 

Brightest in 2019: Saturn will be at its brightest between July 4 and Aug. 9. Saturn is at opposition to the sun on July 20. 

Saturn will appear close to Mars on March 31 (the two worlds will be virtually the same in brightness and will provide in an interesting contrast of colors), and will engage Jupiter in an incredibly close conjunction on Dec. 21st (see special notation below).

Uranus

NASA

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. It shines at magnitude +5.7 and can be readily identified with good binoculars. A small telescope may reveal its tiny, greenish disk.  

Uranus spends all of 2020 in the constellation of Aries the Ram. It can be spotted in the evening sky from Jan. 1 to April 8, then shift to the morning sky from May 12 to Oct. 30. Uranus returns to the evening sky from Oct. 31 to Dec. 31.

Brightest in 2019: Uranus will be brightest from Aug. 24 to Dec. 31. It will arrive at opposition to the sun on Oct. 31.

Neptune

NASA

Neptune  spends all of 2020 in the constellation of Aquarius the Water Carrier. At a peak magnitude of +7.8, this bluish-hued world is only visible with good binoculars or a telescope. 

Neptune will be visible in the evening from Jan.1 through Feb. 20; and in the morning from March 24 to Sept. 10. It returns to the evening sky from Sept. 11 to Dec. 31.

Brightest in 2019: Neptune will be at its brightest from July 16 to Nov. 5. It reaches opposition on Sept. 11.

On Jan. 27, Venus will appear within two-tenths of 1 degree (less than half the apparent width of the moon) of Uranus. Venus will be 63,000 times brighter than Neptune!

Dec. 21: The Great Conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn

(Image credit: SkySafari App)

Jupiter and Saturn are in conjunction with each other on an average of once about every 20 years. When they come closest to each other they are usually separated by about a degree or two.  

But this upcoming get together between the king of the gods and the god of time will be something out of the ordinary, for the two worlds will appear to come exceedingly close to each other. How close?  

On the next clear night, check out the Big Dipper and take note of the star in the middle of the handle. That star is Mizar and very near to it is a faint star known as Alcor.  It used to serve as an eye test.  If you could see it sitting next to Mizar your vision was considered to be normal.  Mizar and Alcor are separated by 12 arc minutes, but on Dec. 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will be separated by only half that distance! 

It will provide a rare opportunity to see both planets in the same view of a high-powered telescope! All four of Jupiter's famous Galilean satellites will also be on display, while the north face of Saturn’s rings will be tilted 21.3 degrees toward Earth. On average, these two planets come as close as this about every 300 years, though the last time dates back to July 16th, 1623!  

The only disadvantage is that you will have to look quick.  The two planets will be low in the southwest sky as darkness falls and will set less than 2.5 hours after sunset.

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

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

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  • rod
    Admin said:
    Here is a aB68PC7FWchFK83t6zMXhLe to when certain planets will appear brightest and most visible in the 2020 night sky, including a dazzling conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on Dec. 21!

    When, Where and How to See the Planets in the 2020 Night Sky : Read more

    "aB68PC7FWchFK83t6zMXhLe", I have no idea what this means :) However, I do have my 2020, Skygazer's Almanac for upcoming celestial events to view this year. I also use Starry Night and Stellarium software too. Yesterday evening I enjoyed some very fine views of the waxing crescent Moon and Venus near and after sunset on New Year's Day. This morning close to 0600 EST, I enjoyed some views of Mars too, tracking for sometime as Mars approaches opposition in October this year. Using quality telescopes and good planetary ephemeris, you can observe the heliocentric solar system in motion :)
    Reply