Up for a naked eye challenge? Most of us look for planets in a dark sky, or with Venus and Mercury, in twilight. But there are ways to view the brighter planets while the sun is still up. Go-to telescopes can point to bright stars and planets automatically, but hey, that’s cheating. Today, we’re going to find the planet Jupiter the old-fashioned way by using our eyes — with a little help from the moon.
Later today (Sunday, May 7), the waxing gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter, passing about 2° or four moon diameters north of the planet. The moon rises around 5 p.m. local daylight time and will be easily visible in the southeastern sky 20-25° high around 7:30 p.m. Since sunset occurs between 8 and 9 p.m. from many locations, we can use the moon to point us to Jupiter with the sun shining all the while.
Face to the southeast around 7-7:30 p.m. and find the moon. Now point your arm skyward and look one thumb’s width (2°) to the right of the moon. If the sky is clear and blue (no high clouds or thick haze), you might just glimpse a tiny spark of light. Yes, that’s Jupiter! In broad daylight no less.
If you have difficulty, whip out your binoculars, focus them sharply on the moon and look a short distance to its right. You should be able to see the planet no problem now. Once you know exactly where to look, lower the glass and try again without optical aid. While Venus is not difficult to see in a blue sky, Jupiter’s a bigger challenge. Give yourself a big pat on the back if you find it.
Or you could wait till closer till your local sunset time, when the deepening blue of the eastern sky will make the planet stand out better. The diagram above shows the duo at 7:30 Central Daylight Time. From the East Coast they’ll be about ¼° closer together at the same local time and ¾° farther apart viewed from the West Coast.
The fun continues. At nightfall, moon and planet will still be close together (about 2.5°), making for a eye-catching sight all night. If you haven’t taken a moonlit walk lately, tonight’s the night.
* Update: Just spotted Jupiter at 7:30 p.m. (almost an hour before sunset) in 8×40 binoculars with ease but not with the naked eye.
That had to wait until 8:08 p.m. 17 minutes before sunset. Without optical aid, Jupiter was a faint speck of light against the blue sky. Let us know if you spotted it by leaving a comment. Thanks!