How to see five planets and the moon without a telescope on Sunday

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will put on a show.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
2 min read

Set your alarm and wake up early this Sunday, July 19. About 45 minutes before sunrise, you'll be able to see five planets and the crescent moon without using a telescope. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and the moon, all will be visible. 

Jeffrey Hunt, an astronomy educator and former planetarium director who has written about the event in a post on his site, When the Curves Line Up, talked me through how best to get a glimpse.

Watch this: These telescopes offer a unique way to view the night sky

"Step outside early in the morning, at least an hour before sunrise," Hunt said. "Find the four bright planets -- Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. They look like overly bright stars. Brilliant Venus is low in the east-northeast. Mars is the lone 'star' in the southeast, and Jupiter and Saturn are the stars in the southwest. To your eyes, they won't look like the photos made by spacecraft, just overly bright stars."

Mercury might be the toughest to spot. Hunt advises trying for Mercury about 45 minutes before sunrise, using binoculars. 

On his website, Hunt offers tips for finding each planet. Venus, he says, will "blaze in the eastern sky." The thin crescent moon will be very low in the east-northeast part of the sky, and will only be about 1 percent illuminated. Mercury will be to the right of the moon, Mars will be about halfway up in the sky in the south-southeast, Jupiter will be just above the horizon in the southwest, and Saturn will be to the upper left of Jupiter.

Newbie stargazers may want to seek out some technological help. "Google Sky, Night Sky, and Star Walk are apps that may help early risers locate the planets in the sky," Hunt says.

The sight will be visible in both the northern and southern hemisphere.  From south of the equator, Hunt notes, Mars is in the northwest rather than the southeast.

If you miss out, you'll still be able to see the five planets in the sky for a few additional mornings after July 19, but you won't also see the moon.

"On successive mornings, look 3-4 minutes earlier each day," Hunt advises. "You may catch (the five planets) in the sky until about July 25."

Miss this five-planets-and-the-moon gathering, and you'll have a bit of a wait. We'll next get to see this gathering in late June 2022, Hunt told me.

You could catch another celestial event on Friday however, when Ganymede -- the biggest moon in our solar system -- transits Jupiter

Watch this: How NASA's Mars helicopter could change the future of space exploration