Starting this week, the planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all be visible in the sky, offering an extremely rare sight for stargazers. The last time that this occurred was more than a decade ago in 2005. While Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have all been visible since the start of 2016, it is the appearance of Mercury that will make the scene complete. The actual date for best viewing the alignment of the five planets will vary depending upon one’s location.
Because Mercury typically remains close to the horizon, it will be the most difficult of the five planets to see. However, the planet will gradually cross higher in the skyline. By early February, Mercury should be easier to locate. The skyline will feature Venus and Saturn in particularly close proximity on February 9th.
Meanwhile, starting on January 28th, the view of Earth’s waning moon will traverse across the line of planets. The moon will start out by Jupiter, and by February 7th, its image will have made its way to Mercury.
This kind of alignment in the Earth skyline is quite rare because of the fact that each planet orbits the sun at different distances, and each planet takes a different amount of time to finish its respective year. However, the fact that they occasionally do line up is visual proof that all of the planets do orbit on approximately the same plane.
While the planet alignment can be seen without a proper telescope, some people may have to relocate to areas without obstructions. For example, trees, buildings and city lights can all block the rare image of the planet alignment. Additionally, anyone who wants to see the view will have to do so particularly early in the morning. And of course, using a telescope can produce a better image than the naked eye. Clear skies will also help matters.
The five planets are also set to gather together sometime in August as well. However, the alignment in August will only be visible from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. Thus, it will be quite some time until Americans get to see these five planets align in the sky again.