You Can See Five Planets & a Comet With the Naked Eye Through the End of the Month
It's a great month for stargazing, and it's only getting better.
In your everyday life, the solar system isn't quite the highly detailed diorama your elementary school teacher had hanging from the ceiling. (Also, you know, sorry about Pluto.) But with some careful planning, you could see five planets (six if you want to be cheeky and include Earth) in a single night, and you can do it right now.
There are only five planets visible with the naked eye, and they all happen to be up right now. In a couple of days after the new moon on July 20, you'll also be able to throw in the moon. In addition to those five planets and the moon, Comet NEOWISE is still visible and a complete delight to see just after sunset each night.
Jupiter and Venus are the two brightest planets, and you've almost certainly seen them many times. Both planets shined at their brightest for any night this year earlier this month. Jupiter hit opposition on July 13. Saturn will hit its brightest point for the year on July 20. All three are currently close to the brightest you're able to see them in 2020. You can see both Jupiter and Saturn all night long. They'll be visible as soon as the sky gets dark.
How to see Mars and Venus
Depending on where you live, Mars will rise around midnight or a little later, per In the Sky. It will start out in the east and move westward until it disappears with the sunrise.
Venus, which is currently visible in the morning hours after spending many months in the evening sky, will rise around 3am local time. It's the brightest object in the night sky that's not our moon. With a new moon in the sky on July 20, it's going to be very easy to spot in the northeast.
How to see Mercury
Of the naked-eye planets, Mercury is, under most circumstances, the most difficult to see because of its location relative to the sun. The planet is almost always sitting in the glare of our star.
Mercury is going to rise in the northeast about 45 minutes before the sun, and it's going to stick pretty close to the horizon. Using binoculars to spot the tiny red planet can help pinpoint its location. Though, be sure you've got a clear view along the northeastern horizon. It'll be down and to the left of bright Venus. Mercury will stop being visible in the mornings by August 17, according to EarthSky. However, for mid-northern latitudes, it may disappear even before that point as it starts to rise too close to sunrise.
How to See Comet NEOWISE
NEOWISE should be around through the end of the month, if not a bit into August, but it's tough to say with certainty how long we'll be able to see this gorgeous naked-eye comet. There's more info in the Thrillist guide to Comet NEOWISE, but just after sunset local time, the comet will appear below the Big Dipper. It's moving a little to the left under the familiar constellation every night. (You may even see some meteors from the Delta Aquarid meteor shower.)
The comet is visible with the naked eye, but if you're around light pollution it's a good idea to have binoculars with you. Finding it first with binoculars not only gives you a great view of the comet's tail but will help you see it more clearly without the use of binoculars.