A big sky event is on the way, and Michiganders has a very good chance to see this event. An astronomer calls it a “Grand Conjunction.”
A conjunction is when two planets come very close together when you see them in the sky. In this coming case, there will not only be two planets, there will be five planets and the moon. Astronomer Todd Slisher, CEO of Flint’s Longway Planetarium and Sloan Museum, says that while this is not a typical composition of planets affecting a view, it is still considered a conjunction. For those who track this celestial event on social media, it has also been nicknamed the “planet parade”.
Over the next few weeks, Michiganders will be able to see east and southeast just before sunrise and see the planets in a row. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will extend across the eastern to southern skies, according to Slisher.
Slisher says you should start watching about an hour before sunrise at the place you are. You can check your sunrise time anywhere here. The best viewing of the five planets will take place on June 24, June 25 and June 26. Start looking at the sky from just north of east to almost straight south. Slisher says that this is the vastness where you will see all the planets.
A bonus is that the moon will also be in this series of planets. If you wait until June 24 to June 26 to search for the planets, you can see Mercury. Mercury will only be visible just above the horizon for approx. 15 minutes. As we approach sunrise, Mercury will disappear in the sunlight. Slisher also recommends that binoculars help you see the little Mercury.
The five planets are visible at once only every 18 years. But this year’s Grand Conjunction is even more special, and something we have not seen since the 1950s, Slisher states. This year’s conjunction will have all the planets in a row as they are at an ordered distance from the sun. Mercury is about 35 million miles from the sun, and Saturn is about a billion miles from the sun.
So we look some distance away when we see these planets in a row.
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 to see the Grand Conjunction early Friday morning or early Saturday morning.
To learn more about the summer sky and the Grand Conjunction, attend the Skies Over Michigan Show from 3pm 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 Grand Conjunction.