Over the next several weeks, stargazers will have the rare opportunity to see five planets line up in the predawn sky in a stunning celestial display that is visible to the naked eye and won’t be seen again for nearly 20 years.
Starting from the eastern horizon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear across the east-southeast sky in order of their distance from the sun each morning, and a crescent moon joined the lineup on Friday morning, astronomers said.
Allyson Bieryla, manager of the Science Center Astronomy Lab and Telescope at Harvard University, said Venus will appear the brightest because it is the closest to Earth, and Jupiter should be just as easy to spot.
“These objects are much brighter than stars, so it should be fairly obvious even to a novice observer,” Bieryla wrote in an e-mail Monday.
With the proper gear, even more heavenly bodies will be visible, she said.
“If you have a pair of binoculars or a telescope, point them at the planets and moon,” Bieryla wrote. “With even a small telescope, or binoculars on a tripod, you can see Jupiter’s largest 4 moons (called the Galilean moons) and Saturn’s rings. If you are in a dark enough location with a small telescope, you might also be able to see the atmospheric bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere!”
The last time these planets were so clearly visible was 2004, and it won’t happen again until 2041, according to Sky & Telescope magazine.
The display is expected to remain visible into early July, so if cloud cover or poor weather keeps you from seeing the planets one morning, there will be other chances.
Light pollution is always a concern, but the planets are bright enough that they may even be visible from urban areas.
“As with all observing, the best conditions are clear, dark skies but luckily these are all bright, naked-eye objects so you should be able to see the lineup even from the city!” Bieryla wrote.
The best viewing time to see all five planets is just before dawn, she said.
“You should be able to spot Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and even Venus for several more weeks in a similar lineup,” Bieryla wrote. “Mercury is only visible for brief periods of time and only fairly low in the horizon because of its orbit, but if you miss all 5 planets, I encourage you to look up in the early morning anytime over the next several weeks to see how many planets you can spot. The moon will only appear in this lineup for the next few days, and then not again until next month.”