Every naked eye solar system object now appears at the same time. Like a string of pearls, the Moon and five planets are arrayed across the heavens.
Dates to View Five Planets
This planet line-up is good from Monday, January 25 right through February 6 or so.
Ignore the media which reported it was happening a week prior—when only four of the five planets were visible. Mercury was only 2nd magnitude (it’s always dim when it first emerges from the Sun’s glare, on the near side of its orbit). No observer can see a 2nd magnitude object just a few degrees above the horizon, let alone when morning twilight is already underway. However, Mercury has been brightening day by day, and this week it is visible, completing the 5-planet string of pearls.
Time to View Five Planets
The chance to see all five planets above the horizon—and in the sky at the same time—happens every so often, but this time the line-up occurs at 6:30 AM. Step outdoors at 6:30 AM, or whenever the first traces of dawn touch the eastern sky.
Look towards the east. Note that two of the planets are fairly low in the east, which requires a flat horizon. Some folks perched on hilltops do have such a eastern vista, but most of us don’t.
In truth, a similar line-up of all the planets will unfold in the middle of this coming August. That may be a bit warmer than now. Better still, it will then occur in the evening, at a convenient hour. So you won’t be blamed for deciding to sit this one out.
The planetary line-up near dawn in early February. Credit: Starry Night Education Software
How to See the Five Planets Align
Okay, with all of that legal disclaimer type stuff out of the way, let’s say you really want to observe this predawn display, which will last for the next ten days. Step outside about 6:30 A.M.
Everyone should be able to see Venus and Jupiter. Here’s the string of pearls:
- Dazzling Venus is on the left, just over the eastern horizon.
- Mercury, far less luminous, dangles below Venus. You may need binoculars to see Mercury until February 5 or 6.
- Brilliant Jupiter frames the right side of this alignment.
- Going leftward from Jupiter takes you first to Mars and then Saturn.
- There’s also a couple of bright stars sprinkled along the line as well, like blue Spica and orange Antares. They add nice color, but could confuse beginners trying to pick out the planets.
Extra guidance arrives with the Moon. It will float next to Jupiter on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, January 27 and 28. The Moon will then hover just above Mars on Monday, February 1, above Saturn on February 3, and forms a stunning triangle with Mercury and Venus on Feb 6.
Don’t miss the dramatic peak February 6, just before dawn, when Venus, Mercury (then it will be zero magnitude and quite visible) and the crescent Moon form this lovely little triangle.
It’s all very cool. See you out there.