The May-June 2013 Planet Dance

A remarkable series of events takes place low in the west-northwest shortly after sunset from late May to late June. It features the tightest three-planet grouping visible without binoculars until 2026 and an excellent apparition of Mercury.

Tony Flanders
Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets, have been approaching each other all month. Mercury, currently the third-brightest planet, becomes visible to Venus's lower right around May 19th. It appears closer to Venus each evening until May 24th, when it's just 1⅓° upper right of Venus.

From May 24th to 29th, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury all fit within a 5° circle. That means that you can view all three at the same time with most hand-held binoculars.

Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury on May 26, 2013
Click above to watch an animation of the planets and stars from May 20th to June 20th.
The grouping is tightest on May 26th, when all three planets fit in a 2½° circle. Jupiter appears right next to Venus on the 27th, and after that it slowly pulls down and right of Venus, disappearing from view in early June.

But Mercury is only now entering the prime evenings of this apparition, soaring ever higher above Venus until June 7th, when it slowly begins to sink back toward Venus. But as always during an evening apparition, Mercury is beginning to fade — slowly at first but increasingly rapidly after mid-June.

Mercury was nearly as bright as Jupiter at the beginning of this apparition, but it has faded tenfold by June 20th, appearing no brighter than the stars Castor and Pollux above it.

Watch an animation of the entire amazing three-planet conjunction:

9 thoughts on “The May-June 2013 Planet Dance

  1. rocksnstarsTom Hoffelder

    Most (maybe all?) who read the above article/view the video know the relative brightness of the objects involved and just how high (or low) 5 degrees measures above the horizon. For the few (if any) who may not know: 1) During the few days the planets are closest Venus will be 6 times brighter than Jupiter, Jupiter will be 2.5 time brighter than Mercury and Mercury will be 9 times brighter than the star Elnath. 2) 10 degrees is the height of your fist held at arm’s length, which means the grouping is only half that high 40 minutes after sunset.

  2. Alison

    Clouded out. It’s been raining for days. I hope people will post photos & that S&T will find us links to some.

  3. Ed Hettman

    The Venus/Jupiter/Mercury conjunction on the cool and gorgeous evening of the 26th was the most beautiful astronomical image I’ve seen at dusk. I often find that to be the most astounding and fulfilling time to see various bright celestial objects but this was incredible. Felt as if it was my duty to run out to the (sparsely used) road in front of my church parking lot and grab someone to view such an astounding apparition. The sky was as clear as one can expect in NJ and the barn and trees were exquisitely outlined in the orange/yellow haze Venus, then Jupiter, then Mercury laid to rest in. And as I was half way through my cup of coffee the most incredible think happened – from somewhere straight overhead, aiming directly for the center of the almost equilateral triangle sinking far too quickly into the horizon, was the slow motion 5 or 6 degree long trailed, bluish green (apparently copper laden) meteor. Jaw-dropping, Lord praising show! Absolutely stunning evening. Thanks for pointing this event out and making it a part of my life’s memories, S&T.

  4. Ed Hettman

    One more thing that seems like maybe it might not be possible but the program said that the Galilean moons should all be visible with binoculars (I think on the 25th more than the 26th). Having this in my head, I can see how I might have placed it there but it seemed like I saw a bright dot very close to Jupiter. Is it possible to see one of the Galileans with naked vision?

  5. Jeff

    I saw the 3 yesterday evening around 9 pm in Athens, Ohio with only my eyes. Very brilliant until clouds came in. I am hopeful for tonight. Mercury is impressive since it is so high in the sky for a change.

  6. Dave Mitsky

    My wife and I observed Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter, and later Saturn, on Saturday evening, May 26, from a vantage point with a great western view just off the Gettysburg Pike. Two other couples were present for the event. One of the men took photographs with tripod-mounted cameras sporting 200 and 400mm lenses. He also had a 500mm lens with him. The other couple had a binocular.

    I brought along my 80mm f/5 Orion ShortTube achromatic refractor, a 19mm Tele Vue Panoptic (21x), and a 7mm Tele Vue Nagler Type 6 (57x). We also had Celestron 8×42 and 10×50 binoculars.

    The three planets formed a near right triangle and were easily seen with the naked-eye. The planetary trio readily fit into the field of view of my 8x42s. Jupiter appeared as a small and somewhat chromatically-aberrated disk at 57x. I wasn’t able to see any of the Galilean satellites at the time.

    I shared views of each planet, and later of Saturn, through the ST80 at 57x with the other people, mentioned the Naylor Observatory, and gave them fliers on the ASH public observing nights.

    As the three planets sank into the northwest, the atmospheric prismatic dispersion that Venus displayed was apparent without optical aid and was quite dramatic when viewed with my 80mm refractor.

  7. George

    I live in Phoenix, on the side of a mountain with a western exposure, where I view the city and sunset below me. Two nights ago it was remarkable clear at sunset As I was grilling our flank steak, I saw the conjuction and it was pretty amazing. And just like the illustrations. It really gave one the impression of an uncanny three dimensional view of the solar system. Mercury so high, yet inside Venus, and Venus so bright yet higher than Jupiter, which is so very far away. Everything in the Zodiac, and orbiting the sun on the angle. Awesome. It presages good things for my backpacking trip this weekend. Going to a well preserved and secluded Anazazi ruin, Keet Seel.

  8. George

    I live in Phoenix, on the side of a mountain with a western exposure, where I view the city and sunset below me. Two nights ago it was remarkable clear at sunset As I was grilling our flank steak, I saw the conjuction and it was pretty amazing. And just like the illustrations. It really gave one the impression of an uncanny three dimensional view of the solar system. Mercury so high, yet inside Venus, and Venus so bright yet higher than Jupiter, which is so very far away. Everything in the Zodiac, and orbiting the sun on the angle. Awesome. It presages good things for my backpacking trip this weekend. Going to a well preserved and secluded Anazazi ruin, Keet Seel.

  9. Joe

    Tom, your comments were super helpful when we went up to Glacier Point to see the planets a couple weeks ago. Thank you!

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