The Planets in 2019!
Wondering when you'll be able to see the planets at their best during 2019? 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 2019 calendars. Here are the amazing planet sights to look for in 2019!
Mercury, the smallest of the planets visible to the naked eye, shines as an evening star 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.
In 2019, Mercury will be visible in the evening sky from Feb. 18 to March 5, and in the morning from March 23 to May 7. Mercury returns to the evening sky between June 3 and July 11, then back to the morning sky between Aug. 1 through Aug. 19. Look for Mercury again in the evening sky between Sept. 23 and Nov. 3.
Mercury will be brightest in the evening sky between Feb. 18 and March 5. The span between Nov. 19 and Dec. 13 will mark Mercury's brightest appearance in the morning sky.
On Nov. 11 a rare Transit of Mercury will take place, with the planet appearing in silhouette as a tiny black dot on the sun's disk, a relatively rare occurrence. This will be the first transit of Mercury to be visible from North America since 2016. There will be no other Mercury transits for the United States until May 7, 2049. Lastly, Mercury and Mars will appear very close together in the evening sky on June 18.
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. Mornings in the eastern sky at dawn from Jan. 1 through June 19. Then, because of its close proximity to the sun, it will be invisible all through the summer into the early fall. Venus will return to the evening, in the western sky at dusk from Oct. 10 through Dec. 31.
As 2019 opens, Venus will resemble a fat crescent moon in small telescopes. It will gradually decrease in size as the overall illumination of its disk increases; for most of this year it will appear as a tiny, brilliant dot of light through telescopes.
Venus' greatest angular distance (elongation) west of the sun of 46.9-degrees is on Jan. 6. Venus will be at its brightest in 2019 from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3, when it will shine at an eye-popping magnitude of -4.5. Venus and Neptune will appear very close to each other on April 10.
After 2018's spectacular apparition, where Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 15 years and spent much of the summer shining as the third brightest object in the night sky behind the moon and Venus, 2019 can be considered as an "off year" for Mars. The Red Planet is visible in the night sky from Jan. 1 to July 18, then shifts to the morning sky from Oct. 16 to Dec. 31.
Mars begins the year still shining at a respectable magnitude of +0.5 in western Pisces – its brightest in 2019 – southeast of the Circlet asterism, crossing the meridian at dusk and setting in the west soon after 11 p.m. local time. It will spend the next nine months steadily drawing farther away from the Earth and gradually diminishing in brightness, all the while slowly approaching the sun in the sky.
By the end of March, Mars will pass three-quarters of a degree south of the Pleiades, having dimmed to magnitude +1.4. Just before it disappears into the glare of the sun, it will pass through the Beehive star cluster in Cancer on July 13, but by then it will fallen to the rank of a second magnitude object and binoculars will be needed to glimpse it against the bright glow of evening twilight.
Mars will transition from the evening to the morning sky at solar conjunction on Sept. 2; from our vantage point it will then be at a distance of nearly 249 million miles (400 million km) from Earth. It will reappear low in the eastern sky in mid-October in eastern Virgo and by New Year's Eve it will be a magnitude +1.6 interloper near the Libra-Scorpius border, rising about three hours before the sun. Mars and Uranus will Appear close together on Feb. 12, and Mars and Mercury will shine very close together on June 18.
In the night sky, Jupiter looks quite brilliant with a silver-white luster. It will be visible in the mornings from Jan. 1 to May 7, evenings from May 8 to Nov. 7, and mornings again from Dec. 15 to Dec. 31. For much of 2018, Jupiter will shine like a dazzling, non-twinkling, silvery "star" against the constellation of Libra, the Scales, eventually crossing into Scorpius, the Scorpion, on Nov. 21. Jupiter will appear brightest between April 16 to June 4. Jupiter is at opposition to the sun on May 8. On the mornings of Jan. 6 and 7, watch as Jupiter appears less than a half degree to the north of Mars. On the morning of Dec. 21, Jupiter will appear 0.8-degrees south of a dimmer Mercury.
Saturn shines like a yellowish-white "star" of moderate brightness. The famous rings are only visible in a telescope. They were at their maximum tilt toward Earth in October 2017 and have now begun to slowly close to our line of sight. Saturn will spend all of 2019 in Sagittarius, the Archer, hovering to the upper left of the asterism popularly known as "The Teapot." Mornings from January 18th to July 8th; evenings from July 9th to December 28th.
Brightest in 2019: Saturn will be at its brightest between June 29 to July 22. Saturn is at opposition to the sun on July 9. On the night of July 16-17, the full moon will pass closely below Saturn.
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 will start 2019 in Pisces, the Fishes, but will then cross over into Aries, the Ram on Feb. 5 where it will remain for the balance of the year. in 2019, Uranus will be visible in the evening sky from Jan. 1 to April 5, and in the morning sky from May 9 to Oct. 27. It returns to the evening sky from Oct. 28 to Dec. 31.
Brightest in 2019: Uranus will be brightest from Aug. 21 to Dec. 31. It will arrive at opposition to the sun on Oct. 28. Uranus and Mars will be close together on Feb. 12, Mars appearing nearly 100 times brighter than Uranus.
Neptune spends all of 2019 in the constellation of Aquarius. At a peak magnitude of +7.8, this bluish-hued world is only visible with good binoculars or a telescope. It will be visible in the evening from Jan.1 through Feb. 19; and in the morning from March 23 to Sept. 9. It returns to the evening sky from Sept. 10 to Dec. 31.
Brightest in 2019: Neptune will be at its brightest from July 15 to Nov. 4. It reaches opposition on Sept. 10. Neptune and Venus will appear very close on April 10. Venus will be passing south (below) Neptune, but outshining Neptune by 63,000 to 1.
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, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for Verizon FiOS1 News in New York's Lower Hudson Valley.