Night sky buffs can usually spot a few minor planets, but in late March, a stunning picture forms when five planets line up under the moon in a display sometimes called a planetary procession or alignment.
Spectators will be able to catch their best glimpse of the alignment—which will include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Uranus—on Tuesday evening, just after sunset. Much of the display will become visible on Friday and remain so for the next two weeks, according to Cameron Holmes, a computational astrophysicist at Caltech.
Alignments like this appear every few years or so, Hummels said, and many of them will be visible to the naked eye, even in urban areas with significant light pollution. It can be seen across the northern and southern hemispheres.
The arrangement will be visible just below the crescent moon. To determine the width, Hummels recommended heading to a spot with a good view of the western horizon just after sunset, when the sunset’s colored stripes still linger and the sky turns dark blue but not yet black. (Tip: Those who live far to the north should look a little southwest, while those in the Southern Hemisphere should look northwest, Holmes said.)
The easiest planet to see is Venus, often referred to as the “evening star,” because it’s the brightest object in the night sky away from the Moon. Uranus will appear close to Venus, though the distant planet can be difficult to spot without binoculars or a telescope unless you’re viewing from a prime location free of light pollution.
Below Venus and Uranus will be Jupiter and Mercury, hovering over the horizon. It can also be difficult to catch Mercury without special equipment, because the sun’s glare can obscure the planet. But to keen observers, both planets will be visible for about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset, Holmes said.
The planetary display is topped by Mars, sitting in a straight line from Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus, and the Moon. It’s easy to pick out because of its distinctive orange colour, Hamels added.
Holmes said the planets would all appear “like pearls on a necklace” across the night sky.
The entire alignment will cover about 70 degrees of the sky. One way to measure degrees in the sky, Hummels said, is to use your thumb or closed fist held away from your body. The fist at arm’s length will cover about 10 degrees, while the thumb will cover about 1 degree.
What does this mean?
A planetary alignment of this kind might appear every few years, but it is possible to capture the planets all together in a smaller patch of sky—such occurrences are rare.
One last alignment Junefor example, was the first of its kind since 2004. The event included all five planets visible to the naked eye—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Hummels said not to give too much importance to the alignment of the planets.
“It’s a bit like when your car’s odometer shows a bunch of numbers – like it goes up to 44444,” he said. “It’s so cool and extraordinary. It doesn’t really mean anything.”
He added that wonderful celestial phenomena often adorn the night sky, such as the appearance of Jupiter and Venus in the interior. half a degree from each other This month.
On October 14, skywatchers expect to see a “ring of fire” eclipse. And in April 2024, A.J The total eclipse of the sun The sun will be obscured in the middle of the day for many in the United States.
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