Whether you are looking for a quick astronomy lesson or wanting to see planets casually, there are a number of planets that are indeed visible from Earth without any gear at all. The following lists explains what planets can be seen without a telescope. The one caveat is that the planets are difficult to distinguish without a bit of prior training, but good news is you can find that here!
First and foremost, our preview to the list: the Moon.
Can you see the Moon without a telescope?
Yes, you can see the moon quite easily without any equipment at all. Given the distance between the Earth and the Moon is an average of 240,000 miles or 385,000 km away from the Earth, the Moon is fairly visible throughout the year. The visibility of the Moon is largely dependent on the phases of Earth’s moon.
On a given night, the Moon will be the closest object to the Earth that’s visible from the sky. The result is that the Moon is the brightest and largest object visible from Earth. Both distance and brightness are factors to consider for the remainder of the list below. The brighter and closer the object, the better chances of being able to view them from Earth with unaided eyes.
Can you see Mercury without a telescope?
Yes, as one of the five brightest planets, Mercury is visible without a telescope. However, Mercury is one of the most difficult to see of the five brightest planets.
As the closest planet to the Sun, there are only a few angles that stargazers from Earth can see Mercury without the interference of light from the Sun. In fact the furthest Mercury gets away from the Sun still forms a 28 degree angle with the Earth.
The other factor is that Mercury trails closely with the Sun in terms of visibility relative to the Earth’s horizon. When the Sun sets, there is only a brief moment where Mercury is above the horizon for viewing. When daylight still exists, the sky is too bright for Mercury to be visible typically.
Both Venus and Mercury are closer to the Sun than Earth. Meaning, the only way to see these planets in theory is when you are facing towards the Sun. As a result, these planets are in the sky during daylight hours on Earth.
Can you see Venus without a telescope?
Yes, as one of the five brightest planets, Venues is visible without a telescope and the easiest planet to spot from Earth. As mentioned, Venus orbits the Sun closer than Earth so Venus can actually be visible during the daytime.
Venus shines with a bright white light that may have a bluish or yellowish tint depending on the view. Generally speaking only the Sun and Moon are brighter than Venus. Venus shines brighter than all other stars and celestial bodies in the sky.
The planet has cycles of both morning and evening appearances. These cycles last several months at a time when the planet moves closest to the Sun on its orbit, and when the planet moves the furthest away. In fact, Venus has been referred to as the “The Morning Star” since Venus can be viewed in the early morning before the sun even rises. It is also referred to as the “The Evening Star” when it can be viewed right after sunset.
Can you see Mars without a telescope?
Yes, as one of the five brightest planets, Mars is visible without a telescope.
However, Mars can be difficult to see even with a telescope. In many cases Mars will be a small reddish dot in the night sky. The best period to see Mars is when the Earth and Mars are closest. When the two planets are at their closest distance, this is known as opposition.
Roughly every two years or so, Mars and Earth line up perfectly with the Sun, with the Earth being in between Mars and the Sun. As a result, this period is the best time to view Mars without a telescope.
Opposition Dates for Mars (the best dates to view Mars without a telescope)
- October 13th, 2020
- December 8th, 2022
- January 16th, 2025
- February 19th, 2027
Can you see Jupiter without a telescope?
Yes, as one of the five brightest planets, Jupiter is visible without a telescope. Jupiter gives off a very bright white light and it will shine brighter than any other star in the sky. Only Venus may be brighter in the night’s sky.
Jupiter has rings also like Saturn but they are not visible without additional optics. Even the biggest being larger than Mercury, Jupiter’s moons are not visible with the naked eye.
Can you see Saturn without a telescope?
Yes, as one of the five brightest planets, Saturn is visible without a telescope.
However, you will not be able to see Saturn’s rings without a high power telescope. This may be a disappointment for many Saturn fans who are interested in seeing the planet’s distinct and beautiful rings. Saturn will look just like a bright star in the sky without any additional viewing equipment.
Can you see Uranus without a telescope?
No, under most circumstances Uranus is not visible without a telescope. The distance from Uranus and the Sun is nearly 20 times the distance between the Earth and the sun. That unit is know as an AU or Astronomical Unit.
Due to the distance from the Sun being so far, Uranus is known as one of the icy giants, with Neptune being the other icy giant.
In the darkest of skies and nearly perfect alignment of the Earth’s moon and the Sun, Uranus has been known to be spotted dimly by those viewing out a telescope.
However it is fairly accepted that Uranus is only visible with a telescope.
Can you see Neptune without a telescope?
No, the planet Neptune is not visible without a telescope from Earth. Due to the distance of Neptune away from Earth, Neptune can only be viewed with high powered telescopes.
Like Uranus, Neptune is considered as one of the icy giants due to its planetary conditions being so far away from the Sun. Where Uranus is a little less than 20 AU away from the Sun, Neptune is 30 AU away from the Sun.
As mentioned, that means that Neptune’s distance from the Sun is thirty times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Can you see Pluto without a telescope?
No, the dwarf planet is too far and too small to reflect enough of the Sun’s light to be visible from planet Earth without a telescope. Because of the distance away from Earth, Pluto requires the strongest of telescopes to have the best possible view.
In fact, even with a telescope, it is hard to distinguish Pluto among other stars in the sky from other galaxies. Pluto can be identified by watching the movement of the dwarf planet relative to other stars and constellations.