Five Planets Create Rare Alignment in the Sky

January 22, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Five planets appear in the night sky
Photo credit: Stellarium (GPLv2)

Here’s how to spot them.

Both Jupiter and Venus are often easy to spot in the sky if you know what to look for, but for the first time since 2005, five planets are currently aligned — from January 20 to February 20 — giving you a chance to enjoy the rare spectacle.

Your best bet for viewing the planets is about an hour and a half before sunrise. If you try earlier than that, some of the planets may not be above the horizon yet, and if you wait too long, the sun will begin to obscure them. Here’s how to spot each one:

Venus: Venus is the second brightest object in the sky after the moon.

Mercury: For the first couple of weeks of this alignment, Mercury will be harder to spot than the others as it will be low on the horizon. However, by early February, it will be right below Venus, which should make it much easier to spot.

Mars: Mars may not be as bright as its counterparts, but its faint, red glow will help you locate it.

Saturn: Follow the path between Venus and Mars to find Saturn. It isn’t the brightest of the planets as it is the furthest away of these five, but it is clustered with Venus and Mercury on the Southeastern side. If you have a telescope, this would be the perfect time to get it out and admire its spectacular rings.

Jupiter: Look to the Southwest and search for what looks like a very bright star. It is the brightest object in the sky after Venus.

SEE ALSO: 11 Astronomical Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2016

Over the course of the month, the moon will be travelling along the path of the alignment so you can use it as your guide. Here is where the moon will be on a few dates to help you out:

January 28: Next to Jupiter

February 1: Below to Mars

February 4: Near to Saturn

February 6: Next to Venus

February 7: Below Mercury

Neptune and Uranus can also be seen during the first half of the night, but you will need a telescope or binoculars.

If you find the current weather too cold for planet searching, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible again from August 13 to 19. However, Mercury and Venus won’t be as easy to spot as they will be lower in the sky.

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