How to View Five Planets Aligning in a Celestial Spectacle



How to View Five Planets Aligning in a Celestial Spectacle



All five planets will arrange on an arc across the sky. Mercury will appear the closest to the horizon, followed by Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. The stars Antares and Spica will make cameos as well, twinkling between Saturn and Mars, and Mars and Jupiter, respectively. CreditSky & Telescope

Five planets paraded across the dawn sky early Wednesday in a rare celestial spectacle set to repeat every morning until late next month.


Headlining the planetary performance are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. It is the first time in more than a decade that the fab five are simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.

Admission to the daily show is free, though stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere should plan to get up about 45 minutes before sunrise to catch it. City dwellers can stay in their neighborhoods to watch, as long as they point their attention to the east, according to Mr. Kendall.

“For Mercury you will need binoculars,” he said. “It will not jump out at you, but everybody should be able to see Venus and Jupiter.”

Mr. Kendall said that the hardest task for viewers is discerning the planets from stars twinkling in the sky. But he offered a simple trick: close one eye, stretch out your arm and slowly pass your thumb over a bright dot in the sky. If the dot slowly dims out when your thumb passes over it, it’s a planet. If it quickly blinks out, it’s a distant star.

The show was expected to run from Jan. 20 until Feb. 20, but the peak time to see all five is from the end of January until the first week of February, when Mercury is at its highest points, according to Sky & Telescope. The display is made possible by the uncommon alignment of all five planets along what is called the “ecliptic” plane of their orbits, according to Jim Green, the planetary science division director at NASA.
On Tuesday night, depending on visibility in New York, each planet had been expected to appear in the sky one by one, starting with Jupiter around 9:20 p.m., Mars at 1:11 a.m., and Saturn at 4 a.m., and Venus — the brightest orb — nearly an hour later. Mercury had been expected to join the ensemble last, at around 6:17 a.m. The show, visible at similar times across the East Coast, will end every morning with the sunrise, around 7:15 a.m. Eastern this week, which makes it too bright to see the planets. The sun came up at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday.

“It’s not super-often you get to see them all at the same time in the sky, it’s like seeing all of your friends at once,” said Jackie Faherty, an astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History. “There they are, the other rocks or balls of gas that are running around the sun.”

Those who miss the planetary alignment in the next few weeks will have another opportunity from Aug. 13 to 19, when the cosmic motley crew gives an encore performance, according to EarthSky.org. That show will take place in the dusk sky, giving stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere the best vantage points.

How to View Five Planets Aligning in a Celestial Spectacle How to View Five Planets Aligning in a Celestial Spectacle Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 9:18 PM Rating: 5

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