No Money Astronomy: The Planets


Look! Your piggy bank is gorging itself on coins! You’ll soon have enough pennies to buy yourself a delicious chocolate chip muffin! Yesssssss!!!!!

We’re still hitchhiking along the cosmic highway and haven’t cracked open our wallet or purse. We learned how to locate stars, identify constellations, and observe the moon—all for free!

Did you know it’s possible to see planets? I’m talkin’ nothin’, but usin’ those squishy optics inside of your face. No telescopes. No binoculars. Only squishy optics (eyes).


  • Mercury

  • Venus

  • Mars

  • Jupiter

  • Saturn


See that planetary hit-list? Those are all the naked-eye planets. The ancients watched these mysteriously nomadic points of light and guess what? They didn’t have any fancy gear! Nope, no way, didn’t need it, couldn’t afford it, the ancients used their biological optics, which were plugged directly into their brain.

Descent of Venus

First things first: how the hell can you tell the difference between a star and planet?

I mean…it seems impossible, right? They both are shiny, they both are points of light, so…**shrugs shoulders**…what are we to do?

I’ll tell you what we’re going to do—look for the shine!

Venus and Stars

Take a look at the above image: which point of light is the planet? It’s okay! Take a moment. I’ll wait…

…Have you figured it out? What was that? Did you say, “the bright point of light”? Congratulations! You located Venus! The brightest of the Visual Five. Take a closer look. Do you notice anything else? Go on. Take a look. I’ll wait…

…Stumped?—pay special attention to the rays of light: notice how Venus appears to have a spiky appearance? That’s the shine, baby! Let’s have a look at another example:


The planetary spikiness is unmistakable.


Stars don’t look like that—take a gander at the miniscule points of light all around Venus. Yup. You guessed it! Those are stars. Notice how meek they are compared to Venus? Pathetic. Stars will all ways appear as twinkling compact points of light—no matter their apparent magnitude.



Easy, right? Now that you know how to visually tell the difference between a star and planet, you could now learn about the nature of the solar system. That’s right! We are going real deep, so put on your diving helmet—you’re going to need it. Trust me.

Saturn - 1










The planets journey across the ecliptic reveals dark secrets about our solar system and the nature of Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Jupiter’s Direct Motion

No shit Sherlock, the planets don’t just zip-zap across the sky—they jog along a specific path, which happens to cut through the zodiacal constellations, and only the zodiacal constellations. Period. End of story. The image above shows Jupiter jogging along the ecliptic and it’s heading (eastward) toward the eye of Taurus (Aldebaran).


Don’t worry! I summoned a massive red arrow, which politely points the way (you can thank me later).




The planets are whispering a secret and it sounds a little like this: Since any planet can be found along the ecliptic, that tells us the solar system is neatly arranged into a plane. Not only that—some of the planetary movement is caused by Earth’s orbit. If you go outside every night and observe Jupiter at the same time, you’ll notice it start to creep eastward along the ecliptic—this direct motion is caused by Jupiter’s orbit.

Jupiter’s Direct Motion (Part 2)




See what I mean? In the image above, Jupiter has traveled past the eye of Taurus, and is heading parallel (eastward) toward the Pleiades. I’ll let you figure out which point of light is Jupiter.





You won’t notice this kind of change over night, so don’t expect it. The solar system has a rhythm, and in order to become attuned—all that’s needed is patience.

Jupiter and Moons (Composite Image)

We are literally swimming up to our necks in profound shitglad you have that diving helmet? I left mine at home! Damn it!

Things are getting complicated: we started out gawking at pretty planets, then fell down the astronomical rabbit hole: ecliptic, Earth’s orbit, direct motion, retrograde motion, visual magnitudes…it never ends—welcome to astronomy.


So the descent continues…


What? Thought we were finished?


Since all the planets jog along the ecliptic—it’s not uncommon to see a few paired together in the sky—which is commonly called a ‘planetary conjunction’.

Conjunction: Venus and Mars


The image above showcases a conjunction of Venus and Mars. Not a particularly rare event, but worthy of taking a look at. Any of the Visual Five could be seen in the sky together—sometimes all at once!

Conjunction: Moon, Jupiter, Venus







The moon can join in on the fun! The image above is a conjunction of the moon, Jupiter, and Venus.

Conjunction: Venus and Mercury

You can use planetary conjunctions as a convenient way to learn about…planets. Yeah. Mercury, for example, tends to be an elusive planet, and doesn’t travel far from the sun, which means observing Mercury is a pain in the ass. You’ve been warned.




Observing the planets doesn’t have to cost you anything and there is plenty to see (and learn). If you’re willing to put in the time, then you’ll become aligned with the solar system’s dance, swinging around and around, as the cosmic orchestra silently hums in your ear.


Well? Have you seen all of the Visual Five? What about a planetary conjunction? Have you observed a planet’s direct motion? Watching the planets is cheaper than sitting through the latest summer blockbuster action flick.


Oh! By cheaper, of course, I mean—free.

No Money Astronomy: Stars

No Money Astronomy: Constellations

No Money Astronomy: The Moon

Published by FlyTrapMan

I have no idea what I'm doing.

15 thoughts on “No Money Astronomy: The Planets

      1. Hehehe !!! I have an autistic son he is sooo frustrated we buy him an orion telescope in June bc he is very into stars and planets and we still have not figure it out tonight we think the lens it has are not to strong bc the starts are the same size as if you did not have anything plus the moon too lol


      2. Is there a description label? Like “102mm Apex” or “70mm Orion Observer”?

        If you’re experiencing bloated stars — there is an issue with focusing (obviously). Is the telescope a catadioptric? If so — the telescope could be focusing past infinity.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. This is the whole description :

        The petite SpaceProbe 3 inch AZ reflector telescope is a great choice for kids who are curious about space and the stars. The telescope’s 3 inch aperture (or diameter) gathers a good amount of light from the night sky, for impressively bright and detailed views of celestial wonders. The whole family will want to join in the fun of seeing thrilling views of the Moon, bright planets, and star clusters seen through the SpaceProbe 3 AZ telescope. Even though this telescope is great for kids, it’s definitely not a toy. This is a genuine reflector telescope that will help foster a lifetime of appreciation for science and astronomy. Beginning astronomy enthusiasts seeking an affordable entry to astronomical adventure will get it in spades with an Orion SpaceProbe 3 Altazimuth Reflector Telescope. Great for all-around astronomical observing, this highly portable, uncomplicated telescope is just the right size and weight for all family members, and just the right price for parents. The SpaceProbe 3 Altazimuth Reflector Telescope makes the night sky’s treasures accessible right from the comfort of your own backyard. This inexpensive reflector telescope will amaze you with revealing views of Saturn’s picturesque rings, Jupiter’s moons, and the beautifully cratered terrain of our own Moon’s surface. Built around a 3 inch (76mm) diameter primary mirror, the Orion SpaceProbe 3 Altazimuth Reflector Telescope also gathers enough light to snare the faint glows of some very exotic star clusters and distant nebulas! The SpaceProbe 3’s focal length of 700mm (f/9.2) provides sharp views of cosmic curiosities the whole family can enjoy.


      4. Reflectors are notorious for being a bit difficult to use.

        The issue is most likely the secondary mirror, which reflects the image into the eyepiece.

        If the secondary mirror is not properly aligned — you will not be able focus the telescope.

        Check the secondary mirror multiple times during an observing session, in case the mirror shifts.

        Of course — this is all speculation and I might be horribly mistaken!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I been saying that to the husband lol I read it on the little book it bring but him being him he has to figure it out on his own hahah tom I will do so with my twiners alone 😉


      6. It’s expensive for what it is — so don’t buy it — unless you absolutely need it. Try to manually align the secondary mirror before investing in that laser.

        For that kind of money, you could get a decent eyepiece.

        Liked by 1 person

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