A great sky event is coming up, and Michiganders have a really good chance at seeing this event. One astronomer is calling it a “Grand Conjunction.”
A conjunction is when two planets come very close together when viewing them in the sky. In this upcoming case, it won’t just be two planets, it will be five planets and the moon. Astronomer Todd Slisher, executive director of Flint’s Longway Planetarium and the Sloan Museum, says while this isn’t a typical conjunction of planets touching in a view, it is still considered a conjunction. For those tracking this sky event on social media, it’s also earned the “planet parade” nickname.
For the next several weeks, Michiganders will be able to look east and southeast just before sunrise and see the planets all in a row. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will stretch across the eastern to southern sky, according to Slisher.
Slisher says to start looking about one hour before sunrise at your location. You can check your sunrise time at any location here. The best viewing of the five planet conjunction will occur on June 24, June 25 and June 26. Start looking across the sky from just north of east to almost due south. Slisher says this is the expanse of the sky where you will see all of the planets.
A bonus is the moon will also be in this line of planets. Waiting until June 24 to June 26 to look for the planets allows you to see Mercury. Mercury will only be visible just above the horizon for about 15 minutes. As we get closer to sunrise, Mercury will disappear in the sunlight. Slisher also advises that binoculars will help you see the tiny Mercury.
The five planets are visible all at once only every 18 years. But this year’s Grand Conjunction is even more special, and something we haven’t seen since the 1950s, states Slisher. This year’s conjunction will have all of the planets lined up as they are in ordered distance from the sun. Mercury is about 35 million miles from the sun, and Saturn is around one billion miles from the sun.
So we are looking a long ways away when we see these planets lined up.
Fortunately for Michigan, we are in our sunny time of year. Friday and Saturday should have clear early mornings. Right now, Sunday morning looks stormy. I would definitely try viewing the Grand Conjunction Friday early morning or Saturday early morning.
If you want to know more about the summer sky and the Grand Conjunction, you can attend the Skies Over Michigan Show at 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at the Longway Planetarium in Flint.
You can also learn more by listening to Delta College astronomer Mike Murray’s podcast about the Grand Conjunction.