The Planets Are Prepping For An Epic Alignment. Here's How To See It

This summer, five planets visible to the naked eye will align and march through the sky in an extraordinary alignment illuminated by the moonlight.

Alignments of the five visible planets without telescopes or binoculars occur rarely every few years. It occurred last in 2020 and before in 2016, 2016, and 2005, according to Michelle Nichols, director of public observing at Chicago's Adler Planetarium. Skywatchers may already see the procession of planets forming, but they will be visible in their whole from late June to early July

Mercury revolves about the sun once every 88 Earth days, Venus once every 225 Earth days, Mars once every 687 Earth days, Jupiter once every 12 years, and Saturn once every 29 Earth years. Given these disparate times, the planets' orbits bring them rarely close together.

This sky chart shows the close conjunction of Mars and Saturn before sunrise on April 4. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Venus, Saturn, and Mars started grouping in the northern hemisphere in late March 2022, however, whether they are visible before dawn varies on your location. Observers farther east and south in North America will watch the cluster rise in the early morning hours, while those in the Pacific Northwest would not see it until roughly an hour before dawn.

Jupiter will join the line of Venus, Mars, and Saturn around April 17. On April 23, the moon will pass through this planetary conga line, appearing to the right and above Saturn, before disappearing from view on April 29, when it will seem too near to the sun to be visible. Beginning May 21, the moon will re-align with the planets.

Mercury will finally join the other four planets in mid-June, with the Earth's moon joining the party on June 17. The planetary line will, coincidentally, be in the order of the planets' distance from the sun.

This sky chart shows the close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter before sunrise on April 30. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The optimal day to see the alignment changes according to local conditions. Mercury will be visible as early as June 10 in locations with a level horizon to the east, but watchers with a more obscured view may choose to wait until late June. Mercury will remain above the horizon until early July when it will again descend below the horizon.

Mercury's brief orbit means that it doesn't spend a lot of time in one section of the sky.

The easiest way to observe the alignment in North America is to walk outdoors and gaze south and east about 45 minutes before dawn local time in late June. The naked eye will be able to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Uranus and Neptune will also be visible in the sky, but they will be much more difficult to view. Uranus should be visible with binoculars in locations with low light pollution, but Neptune will take a 6-inch telescope.

Consistent light is a good indicator of the planets from the surrounding stars. Planetary light is less impacted by the Earth's atmosphere than starlight is. The basic rule is that stars twinkle while planets do not.

Reference(s): EarthSky

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