Note that all times mentioned below are in EST or EDT (it should be specified).

Planet viewing July/August 2022

Venus continues as the brilliant Morning Star in dawn skies in the spring and summer of 2022. In the same part of the SE sky, we also find Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter. Both fainter gas giants, Uranus and Neptune, can also be spotted if you know where to look. The appulses (close approaches of two planets) that happened in the spring are now over. Venus has passed both Jupiter and Mars and is the closest planet to the vicinity of the Sun in the summer months. By mid July, Mercury leaves the dawn sky, and by September Venus is too close to the Sun to observe.

Mercury made a brief appearance in the morning sky this spring and posed with all of the other planets in the dawn sky for a time; it was seen although that was a difficult observation (July 2). In July, it quickly swings sunwards, passes the Sun on July 16 and becomes the "Evening Star" in late July and August. Don't get too excited about that apparition of Mercury, however. It does not get high above the western horizon and will be difficult to spot in the twilight glare.

Mars has been in the morning sky since the start of spring and while it came close to several planets in May and June, Mars has no further encounters until it meets Uranus in August. There are some close Mars-Moon meet-ups with the last crescent Moon on July 21, August 19 and September 16. Mars is slowly growing in size, passing 7" of arc in diameter by the end of July and 8" across in August. It brightens in magnitude to 0.2 by then as well. Mars is still much too small to show any surface details, but its reddish colour can be discerned. Mars will really start to shine in November and December 2022 when it reaches opposition and swells to 17 arc-seconds across and -1.86 magnitude.

Gas giants appearing in the morning sky

The four gas giants - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - continue to be seen in the morning sky before sunrise. Whereas Jupiter and Saturn can be seen with the naked eye, binoculars are required for Uranus and Neptune. Charts to help locate all four planets can be found on the useful links page. The 2022 Saturn and Jupiter viewing guides from Sky&Telescope are available here: Saturn and Jupiter.


July 1 to 13: Comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS at its best in northern skies

In June and July, Comet K2 makes it best appearance for northern viewers at magnitude 8 or so, and then passes into southern hemisphere skies where it may get up to 6th magnitude. In Ophiuchus right now, latest estimates (July 2) put it at 8.6, not a “Great Comet” but certainly visible in binoculars. Imagers have already started to document its changing appearance as its tail grows.

Spotted by the automated cameras of the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) in Hawaii over 5 years ago, it was exceptionally bright for its vast distance at the time. Monitored ever since, there were predictions that it would become a very bright night sky object. Unfortunately, it will probably not even break into naked eye visibility even at is best in December 2022 or January 2023 in the southern hemisphere.


July 10: Antares 3° south of Moon

The night of July 10/morning of July 11 sees the 12-day-old Moon (halfway between FQ and FM) just above the alpha star of Scorpius, so the sky will be bright and the Milky Way not very prominent. Still, there are some nice clusters to observe in that part of the sky, so take advantage of any clear night to do some cluster viewing. About this time, the beautiful open clusters M6 (Butterfly) and M7 (Ptolemy) are highest after dark and these look great even in moonlight. The chart below shows many of the Messier objects that dot the sky between the Scorpion and the Tea Pot.


July 28: Southern Delta Aquariid meteors

This is not a major shower with only 20 meteors per hour at best, but it has the advantage of being during New Moon. The famous Perseids will be washed out by a Full Moon this year in August, so catch some shooting stars when you can in July. But check the entry for August 12 below for more details about the Perseids as the news is not all bad.


August 12: Perseid meteor shower (90/h, Moon = 98%!)

The famous Perseids will be washed out by a Full Moon this year at the peak time in August, but you will still see some if you are prepared to take certain measures. The shower is not a one-night wonder, but lasts for the interval from July 14 to September 1. Perseids can be seen a week or two before the peak when the Moon is FQ or a crescent and sets shortly after dark. On August 6, for example, it sets just after midnight. At that time, the radiant is 30° high in the east and there will be a good opportunity to observe a glowing Perseid or two. Look for persistent trains after a bright one flashes by.


August 14: Saturn at opposition

The first of the two big gas giants, Saturn, reaches opposition tonight, shines with maximum light (magnitude 0.28), and appears its maximum size (19 seconds of arc across) in our telescopes. But do NOT do your Saturn viewing on just this night alone. The night of opposition is preceded by more than a month of good Saturn viewing and will be followed by an equal interval of good viewing on any clear, cool late summer or fall night. It takes a long time for the Earth to catch up to Saturn in its orbit, pass it and leave it behind as Earth circles the Sun on a quicker inside track. A good Saturn viewing guide for this opposition from EarthSky.org date can be found here.

Planets change their apparent sizes in our telescopes mostly because Earth’s orbital motion takes us to a position on the same side of the Sun as the planet once a year. This event is oddly called “opposition”. The reasoning is that the Sun and planet are on “opposite sides of the Earth” - not a very satisfying explanation, but there it is. The exact opposite effect when planet and Sun are next to each other in the sky is called conjunction, but then the Earth is as far away as it can be from the planet, and it is not even visible in our sky directly being so close to the Sun.

The change in apparent size of the planets is depicted neatly in the diagram below from the RASC Observer’s Handbook. While the slow moving planets like Jupiter reach opposition once a year, a planet like Mars with its faster orbital velocity will end up dragging our oppositions for that planet into about 2 years. This December will be a good year for Mars.


August 27: Mercury farthest from Sun (Greatest Eastern Elongation 27.3°)

The speedy planet Mercury whizzes around the Sun much more quickly than any other planet. For example, it went from west of the Sun June 14 (a morning view) to east of the Sun Augyst 27 (evening sky), and will be back on the west side again in the morning sky on October 8. Typically it flits back and forth from east to west up to 7 times a year, so roughly every 8 weeks or so. No wonder the god Mercury is depicted with winged sandals!

This apparition of Mercury will not be an easy one to spot because, while the distance for the Sun is a maximum, Mercury is very low in the sky at sunset and in the murky air at the horizon.

The picture from Starry Night below shows Mercury in the evening sky on August 28, one day past GEE with a 1.6 day-old crescent. Note that the next time Mercury appears in the western sky will be in December along with all the other planets as well in a second Planet Marathon for the year!


A note on observing meteor showers

There are an average of five or six random shooting stars ("sporadics") on any given night, and these will add to any meteors originating in a meteor shower. The particles (called meteoroids) that produce the streaks of incandescence (called meteors) appear to come from a point in a specific constellation (the radiant), but only because the Earth is moving into the stream of debris trailing behind the comet or asteroid that shed the particles.

Annual meteor showers are produced by sand grain sized particles with few larger pieces. Do not expect meteorites, the larger solid pieces of debris to drop down into a field near you; no meteor shower has been known to produce meteorites normally. Most meteorites found on the Earth’s surface are from larger, random pieces of space debris that encounter Earth.

Meteor observing requires no special equipment. Just relax on a recliner and keep warm with a blanket to ward off the chill and dew at night. Meteors appear all over the sky; the longer trails tend to appear farther from the radiant. More info is provided here: Sky&Telescope Meteors.

Observers in a dark location on meteor watch would like conditions to be perfect - no moonlight, radiant high in the sky and cooperative weather. The RASC handbook gives the zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) and assumes ideal conditions, so this is generally a maximum possible. Still, ZHR are predictions and outbursts do happen. Note that counts usually go up after midnight. If there is a group observing, useful information can be obtained about showers by simple counts over 20 minutes or so, logging every meteor seen all over the sky. A group of 3 to 4 observers is required to observe the entire sky but useful counts can also come from single observers facing the radiant.

Reports should be sent to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) or the American Meteor Society (AMS). Include the location, sky conditions, transparency, elevation of radiant along with the time and numbers. Useful report forms for showers as well as for reporting notable individual meteors (fireballs or bolides) are found on these websites.

Photography is also encouraged! This site provides hints on how: Imaging meteors. Another one from Sky&Telescope is here: S&T meteors imaging.


Content on this page created by John Hlynialuk except where otherwise noted