Five planets will line up in the sky for the first time since 2005. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury will appear together and will be visible to stargazers in the United Kingdom from 20th January. Astronomers say the best view will probably be early in the morning of 5th February.
The five planets plus the Moon will form a diagonal line to the horizon. If it is a clear night and you have 20/20 vision, you should be able to see them with the naked eye.
Seeing Mercury might be more difficult because it will be just three degrees above the horizon. However, the other four will be easier to see.
The last time the five planets lined up was in 2005. They will do so again in August 2016 and then in October 2018.
A dance of planets
The Telegraph quoted Dr. Robert Massey of the Astronomical Society, who said:
“There will be a dance of the planets, and now is the time to get out and have a look. It will be well worth getting up for.”
“People will struggle to see Mercury, it will probably just look like a star but if we get good weather we should be able to see Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter well. But people should have a shot at seeing them altogether.”
“Venus will be very obvious in the south east and Saturn will be a little bit higher up to the right. Further over at due south, you’ll see Mars and way beyond in the south east will be Jupiter. They won’t be in an exact straight line, because you virtually never get that in astronomy. They will be more scattered.”
Astronomers say the best time to watch the planets all lined up is just before dawn – about 6.45 am. They advise people to seek out Venus first, and from there to find to other planets.
Over the past few weeks, four of the five planets have been visible in the early-morning sky. Mercury joined them on Wednesday for the first time.
If there are children in your household, take them with you to look at the planets. You never know, it could be the beginning of a beautiful hobby.
Dr. Massey commented:
“If you have binoculars you will be able to see Jupiter’s moons and the red tinge of Mars. You probably won’t be able to see Saturn’s rings but it will have a funny shape because of the rings which you should be able to pick out. If you are using binoculars it’s important not to look towards the sun when it rises.”
Planets line up again in August
For those who miss the alignment this month and want to see it again, there is another opportunity in August 2016. However, with the longer daylight hours of the summer, it will be harder to see in the UK.
After August, the next chance to see the five planets lined up will be October 2018.
Keen stargazers are advised to watch from a location far from tall buildings and city lights. Atmospheric pollution can also interfere with visibility, so if you can, a rural spot would be ideal.
Over the course of the night, planets will appear over the eastern horizon one by one. Jupiter will be the first to appear, which will be visible in the east from 10 pm, shining like a very bright silvery-white star under the back of the constellation of Leo.
These are the five planets that will be lined up in the night sky (not Earth).
Then, a few hours later, the fainter orange-hued Mars, followed by yellow-white Saturn, and the brilliant Venus will follow. Last to appear is Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
By then the sky will be too bright for the naked eye, and you will need binoculars or a telescope.
If you don’t want to watch the planets appearing one after the other, set your alarm so that you can be ready by 6.45 am, and you will be able to see them all nicely lined up together, stretched out across the sky before dawn.
Stuart Atkinson wrote in the Society for Popular Astronomy website:
“This planetary identity parade will last for the next couple of weeks, so don’t worry too much if your morning sky is cloudy at the moment, you should have time to see it. Good luck spotting them, and if you can, why not try photographing this rare line-up of worlds with a wide angle lens? It would provide you with a lovely souvenir of a show in the sky we won’t see again for quite a while.”
Video – The planets are lining up