Solar system showing relative size of (but not distance between) planets.

Keep tabs on our planets with Morrison Planetarium's quarterly guide to planetary activity.


The planet Mercury, image by NASA/JPL

Mercury starts the season off in the morning sky, reaching greatest western elongation on July 4, appearing low in the east shortly before dawn. After that date, it quickly retreats back into the Sunʼs glow by mid-month, swinging behind the Sun and reaching superior conjunction on August 1. It then moves to the evening sky, but this evening apparition is an unfavorable one, as the plane of the Solar System (or ecliptic) is at a shallow angle relative to the horizon. Thus, Mercury never gets very high above the horizon, even at greatest eastern elongation on September 13.

The thin, waning crescent Moon and Mercury are a challenging pair low in the east-northeast before sunrise on July 8, but when they meet up again on August 8, they are too close to the Sun to be seen. They might be possible to spot low in the west just after sunset on September 8.



The planet venus, image by NASA/Caltech/JPL

Venus earns its "evening star" moniker this season, slowly rising out of the setting Sunʼs glow, although the shallow angle of its orbit with respect to the horizon keeps it from getting very high in the sky. As seen at the same time each night (an hour after sunset), it gradually marches 45 degrees southward along the horizon from the west-northwest to the west-southwest through the season, gliding eastward from the stars of Cancer the Crab into Leo the Lion, Virgo the Maiden, and finally into Libra the Scales. On July 12-13, itʼs located half a degree from Mars just after sunset (an angular separation equal to the apparent width of the full Moon).

The waxing crescent Moon is near Venus on July 11, August 10, and September 9.



The planet Mars, image by NASA

Like brighter Venus, Mars is visible in the evening sky early in July, but only briefly, low in the west after sunset. The two planets slowly move together and are closest on the 12th. Then, as they gradually separate, Mars also sinks lower into the twilight, disappearing from view by month's end. It's hidden in the Sun's glow for the rest of the season as it passes behind our star.

The razor-thin, 2-day-old waxing crescent Moon passes nearby on July 11, but the next two meetings on August 9 and September 7 are too close to the Sun to be observed.



The planet Jupiter, by NASA

The largest of the planets is located against the stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier at the beginning of the season and slowly plods into Capricornus the Sea-Goat in mid-August. It rises around 11:30 pm on July 1, around 9 pm on August 1, and around 7 pm on September 1. It reaches opposition on August 19, when it rises at sunset and is visible all night.

The Moon swings by and can be seen near Jupiter on the nights of July 25, August 21, and September 17.



The planet Saturn, by NASA/JPL/Saturn institute

The Ringed Planet (and the slowest-moving of the naked-eye planets) lingers against the stars of Capricornus the Sea-Goat, moving only about five degrees westward during the season. It rises around 10:30 pm on July 1, a little after 8:00 pm on August 1 (which is also when it reaches opposition and is visible all night), and around 6 pm (slightly before sunset) on September 1.

The Moon can be seen near Saturn on the nights of July 23 and July 24, August 20, and September 16.


Sunrise & sunset table

Times are PDT for San Francisco, California, and will vary slightly for other locations.

July 1
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
5:51 am | 1:13 pm | 8:35 pm 

August 1 
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:13 am | 1:15 pm | 8:18 pm

September 1 
Sunrise | Solar Noon | Sunset
6:39 am | 1:09 pm | 7:38 pm


Cosmic lectures

The Benjamin Dean lecture series brings the world's leading experts in astronomy, astrophysics, and more to the Academy's Morrison Planetarium. Stay tuned—lectures are coming back in a virtual format this June!