Five planets will be visible in the sky before dawn this weekend, providing an opportunity for sky watchers to see a rare alignment of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with the naked eye.
From Friday through this month, the five planets will appear suspended across the eastern horizon before sunrise. The procession of planets will be aligned according to their distance from the sun, with Mercury, closest to the star, appearing at the lowest on the horizon and Saturn at the highest in the night sky.
For the best views, northern hemisphere sky watchers should head outside about 30 minutes before sunrise and choose a spot with unobstructed views of the eastern and southeastern horizons.
The same five planets can be viewed before sunrise in the Southern Hemisphere, but instead stargazers must locate with unobstructed views of the eastern and northeastern horizons.
If conditions are clear, the planets should be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, although Mercury will be fainter early in the month, and therefore difficult to detect without binoculars.
However, later in the month, Mercury will noticeably brighten and appear higher in the sky, making it easier to see, According to Sky & Telescopepublished by the American Astronomical Society.
A separate treat also awaits skywatchers later in the month: On June 24, a crescent moon will creep into the pre-dawn formation, appearing between Venus and Mars.
While it is fairly common to see two planets appearing close together in the night sky – a celestial phenomenon known as conjunction – it is very rare for five planets to line up in their natural order. The last time five planets visible to the naked eye were aligned in this way was in December 2004, according to Sky & Telescope.
But after June, the party will begin to disintegrate.
As the next few months progress, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter and Venus will appear scattered across the sky before dawn, “so much so that Venus and Saturn will emerge as morning objects to most observers by September.” According to NASA.
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