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December 19, 2012

(Several) Nights Only- All Seven Planets Visible in One Night

For those of you with even a small refractor telescope, the next few nights present a once in a blue moon opportunity to spot all seven planets in the same evening.
Five of them are visible without even binoculars, while the other two will require you to reference the charts below. While Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will "move" faster in the sky, Uranus and Neptune will stay relatively fixed in their positions in Pisces and Aquarius for some time.

The closest five planets all yield some features through a small amateur telescope, the largest, Saturn and Jupiter, even reveal their moons through simple binoculars, all this regardless of light pollution so even city dwellers can get a good view. Don't expect anything more than a colored disk on the outer gas giants, even with my 8" reflector Uranus is mostly featureless and dull. Anyway, charts below, and the weather tonight is perfect in all but middle fifth of the country, so it makes a perfect time to look up!

Mars is visible for a good hour after sunset, low in the Western horizon:
Mars 1 Hour After Sunset

Jupiter will be rising in the East just before sunset and will dominate Taurus for the entire night. The Great Red Spot, which is shrinking, so catch it while you can, will appear around 2:30AM :
Jupiter 1 hr after sunset

You should wait a good hour or two after sunset to even try to aim for Uranus and Neptune. Uranus will be slightly harder to find despite being brighter due to its proximity in tonight's sky to the moon. The charts below, and a cheap planisphere, should be good enough to spot both with a medium-sized refractor:
Uranus and moon

Take a good long nap, but wake up before sunrise for three planets in a row: Saturn, Venus and Mercury will form a straight line (along with the bright star Spica) around 530-600am:

Maps generated from Stellarium

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posted by CAC at 07:37 PM

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