A big air event is brewing and the people of Michigan have a very good chance of seeing this event. An astronomer calls it a “great conjunction”.
A conjunction is when two planets approach each other when viewed from the sky. In this coming case, it will not be just two planets, it will be five planets and the moon. Astronomer Todd Slisher, executive director of Flint’s Longway Planetarium and the Sloan Museum, said that although this is not a typical conjunction of planets touching in a view, it is still considered a conjunction. For those who follow this celestial event on social media, it has also earned the nickname “parade of the planet”.
Over the next few weeks, Michigan residents will be able to look east and southeast just before sunrise and see the planets in succession. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will span the sky from east to south, according to Slisher.
Slisher says to start searching about an hour before sunrise at your location. You can check your sunrise time at any location here. The best observation of the conjunction of the five planets will take place on June 24, June 25 and June 26. Start looking across the northern sky from east to nearly full south. Slisher says this is the expanse of sky where you will see all the planets.
A bonus is that the moon will also be in this line of planets. Waiting until June 24 to 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 into the sunlight. Slisher also advises that binoculars will help you see tiny Mercury.
The five planets are only visible at the same time every 18 years. But this year’s Grand Conjunction is even more special, and something we haven’t seen since the 1950s, says Slisher. This year’s conjunction will have all the planets aligned as they are an ordered distance from the sun. Mercury is about 35 million kilometers from the sun and Saturn about a billion kilometers from the sun.
So we are looking very far when we see these planets aligned.
Luckily for Michigan, we are in our sunny time of year. Friday and Saturday should have clear mornings. Right now, Sunday morning looks stormy. I would definitely try to see the Grand Conjunction early Friday morning or early Saturday morning.
If you want to learn more about the summer sky and the Great Conjunction, you can catch 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 on the Great Conjunction.