What Planets are Visible Tonight? The Indispensable Astronomer’s Guide to Finding and Seeing the Planets in 2018

Some of the best telescope views of the night sky come from the planets, particularly the five planets visible to the naked eye.

But, you wonder, which planets are out tonight and where should I look to see them?

Well, showing you which planets are visible tonight and where to look for them is what this guide is all about.

Use the 'Quick Navigation' box to get details on the planet of your choice.

Okay, let's jump in and discover which planets we can see tonight.


Introducing... The Planets

There are eight official planets in our solar system (if you thought there were nine, read this). We live on one of them, which leaves seven for us to look at in the night sky.

From the sun outwards, they are Mercury, Venus, [Earth], Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The Five Visible Planets

The five planets closest to us are bright enough to be easily seen in the night sky with the naked eye. You can easily learn to photograph planets too.

For that reason, these are collectively known as the five visible planets. From closest to the sun, outwards, the five visible planets are:

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • [Earth]
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn

All of the planets look wonderful through a telescope, with many different and dynamic features to try and observe.

If you've never seen the awesome sight of Jupiter's cloud belts, Saturn's rings and Mars's ice caps, then it's time you checked out our review of the best telescopes to see the planets (opens in a new tab).

The Outer Planets

Technically these can be naked-eye visible but, unless you know where to look, they are not bright enough to be distinguishable from the background of brighter stars.

There are two outer planets: Neptune and Uranus.

We show you if you can see Neptune and Uranus tonight, but you will need at least binoculars and ideally a telescope to see their disc and any color.


Seeing The Five Visible Planets in 2018

All 5 visible planets have great seeing at some point during this year, which you can see at a glance by scrolling down to the table below.

Before reading it though, it helps to understand why there are times when the planets are well placed for observing and others when they are not visible.

Imagine the five planets split across two groups, the inferior and superior planets:

  • Inferior Planets: Mercury and Venus lie inside Earth's orbit, closer to the sun
  • Superior Planets: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn lie outside Earth's orbit, further from the sun

When to See the Inferior Planets

Alignment of Mercury and Venus

Moon, Venus and Mercury (credit below)

Mercury and Venus orbit the sun inside of the path of Earth, which means a number of significant things:

  • They orbit faster than Earth, so they change position in the sky quickly
  • They present crescent phases to us, like the moon, because we can see them ‘from behind’
  • The best time to see them is at ‘greatest elongation’, which is when they appear to be at their farthest from the sun as we see them. 

The worst time to see the inferior planets is when they are in conjunction. This is the name given to the moment when Earth, the sun and the planet are all in a straight line.

There are two types of planetary conjunction:

  1. Superior conjunctions happen when the planet is on the opposite side of the sun from us, and
  2. Inferior conjunctions are when the planet sits between us and the sun

See both of these highlighted with the red rings on the diagram below.

Planets are invisible to us at and near conjunctions because they are lost in the glare of the sun.

The rare exception to this is when an inferior conjunction happens and the planet is on the same plane as us and the sun. When that happens we see a spectacular transit of Venus or Mercury across the face of the sun.

Sadly, they are quite rare. To see Venus pass in front of the sun you need to be a young person, and ideally not even born yet because there are 99 years to go before the next one.

Fortunately, we all stand a good chance of seeing little Mercury cross the sun’s disc in November next year.

The best time to see Venus and Mercury is when they are at greatest elongation, shown as pink rings on the diagram below. At greatest elongation, they are as far from the sun as they get from our perspective on Earth.

For Mercury that still normally means challenging viewing. It orbits so close to the sun that it is rarely visible for more than an hour before sunrise or after sunset, so we are finding the planet in the glow of dusk or dawn.

Venus orbits further out, so we do get to see it against the inky blackness of night, but it too sets or rises within a few hours of the sun.

Which brings us to the final point you need to be aware of, planet hunter: at greatest eastern elongation, the planet is visible after sunset. At its greatest western elongation, we'll see the planet in the morning, before sunrise.

The Best Time to See ANY Planet

The diagram below shows an idealised position of inferior planets (inner ring) and superior planets (outer ring) hitting conjunction, greatest elongation and opposition with Earth (blue circle, middle ring).

A guide to the conjunctions, oppositions and elongations of the inferior and superior planets.

A guide to conjunctions, oppositions and elongations. (Original source)

You can see that at conjunctions the planet is in the same line of sight as the sun, so it's not possible for us to see it in the sky; the sun's glare is too bright.

When to See The Superior Planets

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all orbit further away from the sun that our own planet does. For this reason, these planets are called superior and they have a different character in the sky from the inferior Mercury and Venus:

  • They take longer to complete an orbit of the sun than Earth, which makes them appear to move only slowly across the night sky
  • Being inside their orbit, we can only see the side facing the sun, so they are always a complete disc. i.e. we never see them in crescent form
  • The best time to see the superior planets is at inferior conjunction

Just like Mercury and Venus, the superior planets also form conjunctions with Earth and the sun. And, unsurprisingly, they too are invisible at this time because they are close to the sun in our sky.

The best time to see the outer planets of the solar system is opposition. If you refer to the diagram above, it's easy to see why (green circle).

Unlike the inferior planets, the outer planets never pass between Earth and the sun. At opposition, we sit directly between them and the sun, which we find easiest to think of as the sun being 'behind' us with the planet 'facing' us.

This is an awesome time for planet-watching. A planet at opposition is visible all night long!

Right, that's more than enough understanding of why we can or can't see the planets tonight. Let's turn now to the most important part of this article: which planets can we see tonight?


What Planets are Visible Tonight?

If you want to know "what planets can I see tonight?" then the table below is the perfect solution for you.

It shows which of the five visible planets can be seen tonight for each month in 2018. It includes opposition dates for Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and greatest elongation dates for Mercury and Venus.

For each of the five visible planets, we show you whether it is visible in the evening, morning or all night. If there is just a '-' in the table then the planet is not visible during this month.

2018

Mercury

Venus

Mars

Jupiter

Saturn

Jan

mGE 01st

---

Morn

Morn

Morn

Feb

---

---

Morn

Morn

Morn

Mar

eGE 15th

Eve

Morn

Morn

Morn

Apr

mGE 29th

Eve

Morn

Eve

Morn

May

Morn

Eve

Morn

Opp 08th

Eve

Jun

---

Eve

Morn

Eve

Opp 27th

Jul

eGE 12th

Eve

Opp 26th

Eve

Eve

Aug

mGE 26th

eGE 17th

Eve

Eve

Eve

Sep

---

Eve

Eve

Eve

Eve

Oct

---

---

Eve

Eve

Eve

Nov

eGE 12th

Morn

Eve

---

Eve

Dec

mGE 15th

Morn

Eve

Morn

Eve

mGE = Greatest Elongation, visible morning / eGE = Greatest Elongation, visible evening

Opp = Opposition / Morn = Rises after midnight / Eve = Rises before midnight / --- = Not Visible


Planets Visible Today - The Details


Now you know which planets are visible in the sky tonight, let's look at them individually for more detail on where to see them throughout 2018.

Is Mercury Visible Tonight?


You may have wondered 'can we see Mercury from Earth' and the answer is a resounding yes! However, of the five brightest planets, Mercury is definitely the trickiest one to see.

It is absolutely possible though, and you can see Mercury without a telescope if you know when and where to look.

For the best chance of success, find an elevated position, e.g. a hill, that overlooks an open horizon. Mercury skirts so close to the ground - even at its best - that trees and buildings will prevent you from seeing it.

Where Can You Find Mercury?

The challenge to seeing Mercury comes from the short distance between it and the Sun, and the rapid orbit the planet has. Mercury orbits the sun in only 88 days, so it completes well over four laps of the sun for every one of ours.

Mercury is so close to the sun that we can never see it in true darkness. It's proximity to the sun also means that the little planet is never very high above the horizon. As an example, at its greatest elongation of December 15th this year, Mercury will only be 12° above the horizon half an hour before sunrise.

To put that in context, 12° is about the width of your fist at the end of your outstretched arm, i.e. not very much.

Even at its best seeing, Mercury is only visible for up to an hour before sunrise in the morning or after sunset in the evening. 

It should come as no surprise that we always find Mercury near the sun. So, when it's visible in the evening after sunset, you'll find it low above the western horizon. Conversely, when the planet is visible before sunrise, look to spot it in the brightening dawn in the east.

When Can We See Mercury from Earth?

Being so speedy in its orbit means Mercury does not hang around long and we have to grab opportunities to see it. Thankfully, Mercury has 7 greatest elongation events this year, three in the evening and four in the morning.

The best time to see Mercury is at greatest elongation. This year, Mercury's greatest elongations occur on:

  • January 01st, best viewed before sunrise
  • March 15th, after sunset
  • April 29th, before sunrise
  • July 12th, after sunset
  • August 15th, before sunrise
  • November 12th, after sunset
  • December 26th, before sunrise

Seeing stays favorable only for a few days. The planet is invariably lost in the glare of the sun within a couple of weeks of its greatest opposition.

Always be careful when searching for and viewing Mercury, especially if using binoculars or a telescope. The sun is never far away and will severely damage your eyes if you look at it - even a glimpse of it with binoculars or a telescope can blind.

Mercury Seeing Challenges:

  • Mercury. Yes, your first challenge is to see the planet itself. Whilst it is bright, it's always in the glare of the dawn or dusk low towards the horizon. Seeing the planet Mercury is a great first achievement!
  • Mercury's phases. What is worth looking out for is the crescent of Mercury. Sky & Telescope Magazine always carries an almanack of how much of the surface is illuminated. (Read our Sky & Telescope review here)

Planet Mercury - Fact Box

Where is planet mercury tonight?

Planet Mercury (credit below)

Orbital period: 88 days

Synodic period: 116 days

Best Magnitude: -1.9

Moons: 0

What to look for in 2018: When Mercury is at greatest elongation, look for the moon-like phases of the solar system's smallest planet.

Is Venus Visible Tonight?

One planet out from Mercury we find Venus. After the moon, Venus is the brightest object in our night sky.

Like Mercury, Venus orbits relatively close to the sun is known as either a morning or evening ‘star’, rising in the morning before the sun or setting after it in the evening. Unlike Mercury though, it is far enough from the sun that we can see it in the darkness of nighttime and not just in the glare of dawn or dusk.

Venus also has crescent phases, like our own moon, which can be seen through a small telescope.  This is the only feature to observe on Venus because has no moons or visible surface features.

Where Can You Find Venus?

Like all planets, Venus is found on the ecliptic but never strays too far from the western horizon when it's an evening star or the eastern horizon in the morning.

The planet is unmistakably bright, shining much brighter than any other object in the night sky which makes it easy to find, even with a pair of binoculars.

At its furthest from the sun, Venus can spend a few nights 'up' all night.  From central latitudes of the US, it can climb about 30° above the horizon, as it will in December this year.

When Can We See Venus from Earth?

For the first two months of 2018, Venus is too close to the sun to be seen.

After that, it appears as a hard-to-spot evening object low on the western horizon about half an hour after sunset. The planet itself sets soon after that.

Visibility improves as 2018 progresses. By mid-May, the bright planet is more than 20° above the western horizon after the sun has set. The views don't get much better - or worse - for several months, and the only Venusian greatest elongation of the year is reached on August 17th.

Viewing of Venus worsens rapidly after that and, by the end of September, the bright planet is outshone by the glare of the sun and becomes invisible in our sky.

Thankfully, her absence from our skies is short-lived. Venus reappears as a morning star in early November and by mid-December is rising in the east more than 3 hours before the sun.

Venus Seeing Challenges:

  • Crescent Venus. Looking at the planet through a telescope, you'll be able to see the phase of this planet, from crescent to gibbous.
  • See Venus in the day! Yes, it is bright enough to be seen when the sun is in the sky, but you need to know where to look and have keen eyes
  • See a shadow cast by Venus's light. On a moonless night, it is the brightest object in the sky and, at a dark site, it is possible to see shadows cast by the planet

Planet Venus - Fact Box

Where is planet Venus tonight?

Planet Venus without Clouds (credit below)

Orbital period: 224 days

Synodic period: 583 days (approx 1.5yrs)

Brightest Magnitude: -4.6

Moons: 0

What to look for in 2018: With Venus shining brightly in our skies for most of the yeat, there are plenty of opportunities for you to see its lovely phases.

Is Mars Visible Tonight?


Passing past our home planet, we begin the journey through the superior planets with Mars.

Famous to everyone, astronomer or not, the ease with which it can be picked out in the night sky varies. But, if you've ever wondered 'can you see Mars without a telescope?' the answer is a definite Yes! 

When it makes its closest approach to us, which it will do with some style in July this year, it’s a bright planet offering lots of observational challenges for the backyard astronomer.

However, it does move closer and further away from the Earth over a period of 26 months and when it is far away, like in January 2018, Mars is small, faint and uninspiring. Even a decent telescope will struggle to show any detail when Mars is at its most distant.

Where Can You Find Mars?

This summer is one of the best times to see Mars in a long time. In fact, this year Mars will be brighter and appear larger in our sky than at any time since 2003.

In 2018 Mars passes through the following constellations:

  • Libra - Jan
  • Scorpius - Jan / Feb
  • Ophiuchus - Feb / Mar
  • Sagittarius - Mar to May
  • Capricornus - May to Nov
  • Aquarius - Nov / Dec
  • Pisces - Dec

You can see what this looks like in the image below, which is a screenshot from SkySafari

Path of Mars across the night sky in 2018

You can enlarge the image by clicking on it, but you can see that Mars spends the largest proportion of 2018, including its opposition, in Capricorn.

When Can We See Mars from Earth?

Mars is visible all year this year, climaxing - as mentioned earlier, with opposition on the 31st of July.

For the first half of the year Mars is a morning object, i.e. it doesn't rise until after midnight. Following opposition, it becomes an evening object and presents itself for viewing at a more sociable time for most of us backyard astronomers.

For Mars, in particular, a four-inch scope will show the disc and possibly some shading/polar caps, but you'll need a six-inch scope to see any level of detail, and even then you’ll need decent seeing conditions… and Mars being nearer helps!

July 2018 Mars Opposition

It's such a big event in the world of backyard astronomy that the opposition of Mars at the end of July this year is worth a special mention.

This picture from NASA's website shows just how much larger Mars will appear this year than at its last closest approach in 2016.

Visual representation of Mars' size at opposition in 2016 and 2018

You can see that the planet will be almost 25% closer to us than two years' ago, presenting much better seeing opportunities than we had then.

It's also the closest approach we're going to have from Mars for the next decade, so set your alarm now for the end of July to make the most of it.

On the day of Mars' closest approach, you'll get the best views of it around 1 a.m., when it will be 25° above the southern horizon. At this point the orange/red glow of the 'star' will be unmistakable, shining at an incredibly bright magnitude -2.8.

Find it located between Capricorn and Sagittarius, as per this screen grab from SkySafari, courtesy of Simulation Curriculum. Stars are shown to magnitude 4.5 and you can click the picture for a larger version.

Where to see Mars at opposition on 31 July 2018

Mars Seeing Challenges:

There are lots of features we backyard astronomers can look for on the Martian surface and this summer gives us a better opportunity to see them than we've had in a very long time.

  • Redness of the disc. It is apparent in any size of telescope
  • Gibbous Shape. Mars does not show phases like the inner planets, but it is close enough that Earth casts a shadow on it at various times on its journey around the sun. This has the effect of giving Mars a gibbous shape which you'll see in a 'scope.
  • Polar Ice Caps. Easier to see at Martian winter. Mars' northern hemisphere winter solstice is Oct 16th, 2018, so the northern ice cap is most pronounced around that period. Winter solstice at the southern ice cap is almost a year later, on Oct 8th, 2019.
  • Shades of Color. Unless you have a truly enormous telescope you're unfortunately not going to see detail in Mars' surface features. However, you should be able to make out smudges of colour, where darker and lighter areas of the Martian surface rub against each other.
  • Phobos and Deimos. Meaning fear and panic, these are the two small moons of Mars. They are very dim (magnitude 11.3 and 12.4 respectively) putting them beyond the reach of smaller scopes. You’ll need at least an 8” aperture with decent seeing conditions to find them.
  • Dust Clouds. Mars experiences dust storms and you may be fortunate enough to see one of those through your scope. They don't run to a schedule, so it's all in the luck of your timing. They're most likely to happen during Martian summer, which is not until March 2019 in the northern hemisphere.

Planet Mars - Fact Box

Where is planet Mars tonight?

Hubble picture of Planet Mars (credit below)

Orbital period: 687 days

Synodic period: 780 days (approx 2yrs)

Brightest Magnitude: -2.9 

Moons: 2

What to look for in 2018: The July 26th opposition provides the best seeing we've had of the red planet for more than a decade. You'll see more surface detail than ever before.

Is Jupiter Visible Tonight?


The fourth of our five planets is the solar system’s giant: Jupiter.

Even though it is much further from us than Mars is, the fact it's well over a thousand times larger than the red planet means Jupiter shines more brightly in our skies. You may not have realized that Jupiter's is the third brightest object in the night sky, beaten only by Venus and the moon.

So, if you're wondering can you see Jupiter without a telescope, you absolutely can. It's a bright planet and can be found shining in the constellation of Libra practically all year long (see below for more detail).

Whilst you can see Jupiter without a telescope, it is a great planet to look at with one. There is so much to see on its surface or with its moons. If you don't own one yet, take a look at our recommendations for the best telescopes to see planets.

Even binoculars will show you the famous Galilean moons of Jupiter and a small scope will bring out the different brightnesses of the bands on the planet's surface, if not the colors themselves.

Where Can You Find Jupiter?

Is Jupiter in the sky tonight? Well, happily, for most of 2018 the answer to that question is... Yes!

Jupiter is visible from January to October and then again in December.

For all but the very end of the year, Jupiter can be found spinning its wheels in Libra. See the screengrab from SkySafari below for the details (click to enlarge). 

Jupiter's path across the night sky in 2018

Only in December does she begin to move meaningfully, briefly crossing into Scorpius before moving to spend the first months of 2019 in Ophiuchus.

If you want to know where to find Jupiter's moons tonight, then we recommend this simple tool from Sky & Telescope (link opens a new tab). Put in the date and time of your observing and discover where the Galilean moons will be. 

When Can We See Jupiter from Earth?

Jupiter reaches opposition on the 08th May 2018, when she will be visible in the sky all night.

From January to March Jupiter is a morning object, rising after midnight. By mid-April, this massive planet is rising around 10 pm and reaches the highest part of her journey across the sky (transits) at 3 am.

At opposition itself, Jupiter rises at 8 pm, transits more than 30° above the southern horizon before setting at sunrise. Jupiter presents the best seeing of the year right now with a 45-arcsecond disc shining at magnitude -2.5.

After opposition, Jupiter moves to become a more sociable evening object. In mid-July transit is at 9 pm and from there on it becomes more challenging to see the best of Jupiter. This is because the planet is lower on the horizon as the sun sets.

For example, by mid-September this year, Jupiter will only be 14° above the southwest horizon as dusk comes to an end. By mid-October, Jupiter sets 90 minutes after the sun.

Seeing becomes impossible during the first week of November 2018 as Jupiter gets too close to the sun.

In mid-December Jupiter once more moves to being a morning object and will be spotted in dawn's glow, rising towards southeast about an hour before the sun.

On the last day of 2018, that gap has increased to 2 hours, although the planet is much smaller, at 32 arcseconds and, consequently, much dimmer than at its peak, shining at magnitude -1.8.

Jupiter Seeing Challenges:

  • Galilean moons. The four moons closest to Jupiter (from a total of 67 known moons) were discovered by Galileo Galilei over 400 years ago 1610. Outwards from the planet, they are Io, Europa, Ganymede (itself bigger than planet Mercury) and Callisto.
    They are easily visible as pinpricks of light either side of Jupiter when they're not behind it. They move quickly and this almanack from Sky & Telescope will tell you which ones can be seen on any given day.
  • Bands of Color. Jupiter is famous for its gas bands and even a relatively small telescope will show you the main bands as faint shades of grey. Larger scopes will reveal more detail and some color.
  • Great Red Spot. This is perhaps Jupiter's most famous feature. You’ll need a decent magnification (250x) to see it, and this almanack to make sure you’re looking for it at the right time.
  • Moon Transits. Seeing the moons themselves is simple, but can you see them and their shadows cross in front of the front of the planet? With good seeing, optics and this almanack, you’ll be proud of managing to see one of these events.

Planet Jupiter - Fact Box

Where is planet Jupiter tonight?

Planet Jupiter from Hubble (credit below)

Orbital period: 4330 days (12 yrs)

Synodic period: 398 days (13 months)

Brightest Magnitude: -2.7

Moons: 67, but the four Galilean moons are the ones to look at

What to look for in 2018: Jupiter reaches opposition in May this year which presents a great opportunity to see the bands and great red spot which mark out the planet. If you're feeling particularly up for a challenge, try and see a Galilean moon transit across Jupiter's face.

Is Saturn Visible Tonight?


Next, we come to the last of the five planets visible from Earth with the naked eye. And, for many, the most spectacular to look at with a telescope.

If you're wondering "can I see Saturn without a telescope?" you absolutely can! At its brightest Saturn's light outshines every star - only the moon and four closer planets beat it, so it's easy to pick out.

For many astronomers, nothing beats their first view of Saturn and its awe-inspiring rings through the eyepiece of a telescope. It's a pleasing and surreal sight that keeps many of us coming back to the ringed planet time and again.

Where Can You Find Saturn?

Like Jupiter, Saturn is a gas giant and even with its truly enormous distance from us it shines brightly in the sky and is easy to pick out with the naked eye.

Saturn's distance from the sun means it takes a leisurely 30 years to orbit the sun, so over the course of 2018, it doesn't move much against the background of stars.

As you can see from the SkySafari 5 screengrab below, the planet stays very close to the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius throughout 2018. So, whenever Sagittarius is visible then so too is Saturn.

Showing the path of Saturn across the night sky in 2018

You can click the image above to enlarge it.

Now you know where to look to see Saturn this year, let's discover when is the best time to see it.

When Can We See Saturn from Earth?

Off all the brighter planets, Saturn has the most opportunities to be seen because it is visible all year long!

Admittedly, it is a hard find in the glare of sunrise at the start of the year but, by the middle of February, it is rising in the southeast almost three hours before the sun.

Our Saturn viewing only improves from there. 

Saturn's rise time moves earlier and earlier with each passing month so that by mid-April it is clearing the horizon at 1:30 a.m. and transiting the southern horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Saturn's opposition is on the 27th June this year. On that day it will transit around 1 a.m. around 30° above the southern horizon. Unfortunately, the moon is close-by and full.

For the best views of Saturn's opposition, when it will be shining at magnitude zero, aim for midnight star-gazing in the middle of July.

Already Saturn-rise is early evening in July, about 7 p.m. As is the nature of the planets, the rise time gets a little earlier each day, but so does transit time, when it is highest in the sky and better to see in detail.

In August, Saturn's transit time is between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. September sees the last of the transits happening in darkness at around 8pm. For, in October, the ringed planet is rising at lunchtime and setting before 11pm.

This pattern of earlier setting continues into the winter. On the first of December 2018, Saturn sets just 2 hours after the sun and will be harder to see. As dusk gives way to night, Saturn will be less than 10° above the southwest horizon.

Quickly over those first few days of December, we'll lose Saturn in the sun's glare. The second half of December is the only time in 2018 when Saturn can't be seen in the night sky.

But, worry not, she reappears as a morning 'star' once more in January 2019.

Saturn Seeing Challenges:

  • Saturn's rings. Of course, this is where we start! Last year the rings will appear wider (more angled towards Earth) that since 2003. In 2018 things won't be much different than they were then, so they are there for the enjoying! Binoculars won't show them, but even the most modest telescope will reveal their glory.
  • Individual rings. With a larger telescope and more magnification, it's a good challenge break the rings down into their component parts: rings A, B, C and D and the Cassini Division.
  • Titan. Saturn’s largest moon (which, like Ganymede, is also larger than Mercury) shines at magnitude 8.3 and is visible with a 4” scope.
    It orbits quite a distance from the planet but is a relatively easy find if you look at the right time.
    There are another 61 moons around Saturn, but none even close to the size of Titan. However, if you’re fortunate enough to have an 8” scope, you could try spotting the next four largest moons, which are Enceladus, Dione, Tethys and Rhea. Use this almanack to help you find them.

Planet Saturn - Fact Box

Where is planet Jupiter tonight?

Saturn and her glorious rings (credit below)

Orbital period: 10,759 days (29.5 yrs)

Synodic period: 378 days (54 weeks)

Brightest Magnitude: 0.7

Moons: 62, but Titan biggest by far (click this link to see Saturn's moons through your telescope)

What to look for in 2018: Saturn's rings aren't quite as spectacular as they were last year, but in a small scope, it will be hard to notice the difference. Take this rare opportunity to see if you can 'split' them into separate bands either side of the Cassini division.




Can I See Uranus and Neptune Tonight?

We touched on them briefly in the introduction. Uranus and Neptune are the last two planets in the solar system.

We’ve not covered them in detail as they are a much harder spot than the other five, but they may be a challenge you want to take on as you become more proficient at looking around the sky with your telescope.

You’ll need a magnification of at least 100x to see the disc of Uranus and more for Neptune. You’ll also need a detailed finder chart for Uranus and Neptune so you know where to look.

It can be hard to know if you’ve found what you’re looking for, but they both shine with a blue/green light and, of course, they move over successive nights with respect to the background stars.

Summary

The five visible planets all put on a spectacular show at various points in 2018.

Each offers its own unique challenges from the simple to the moderately difficult.

Make a reminder to look for Mercury and Venus when they are at greatest elongation. For Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, you'll see the most detail when they are at opposition. 

2018 Opposition Dates for the Planets

  • Mars - Thursday, July 26, 2018, at 21:15
  • Jupiter - Tuesday, May 08, 2018, at 19:26
  • Saturn - Wednesday, June 27, 2018, at 08:13
  • Uranus - Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at 19:31
  • Neptune - Friday, September 07, 2018, at 13:10

All times are UT.

Planet-Finding Resources

These are some useful resources to help you further with your planet observing.


Links: Please note, some of the links in this article are affiliate links. You can find out more by clicking on 'affiliate links' in the footer.
Image Credits

​Color picture of Mercury Credit: By NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington - NASA/JPL.Edited version of Mercury in color - Prockter07.jpg by jjron (cropped to square)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24301424

​Planet Venus without clouds Credit: By NASA - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00104, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11826

​Hubble picture of planet Mars Credit: By NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2005/34/image/j/ (image link), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3193645

​Hubble picture of planet Jupiter Credit: By NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) - http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1410a/ or http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2014/24/image/b/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32799232

​Cassini picture of planet Jupiter Credit: By NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute - http://www.ciclops.org/view/5155/Saturn-Four-Years-On https://www.nasa.gov/images/content/365640main_PIA11141_full.jpg http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA11141, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7228953

​Moon, Venus and Mercury Credit: By ESO/Y. Beletsky - http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1025a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10726475

Featured image of Sun and Planets Credit:  By WP - Planets2008.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24756373