Exciting news for our Astronomy fanatics! This upcoming Tuesday, you will be able to catch a five-planet alignment in the order: Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus, and Mars.
The lead astronomer at NASA meteoroid environment, Bill Cooke, tells CBS news that the alignment will look “very pretty…If you go outside, right at sunset, right after the sun goes down and look west, you’ll see these planets strung out in a line extending about 50 degrees or so”
Cooke continues that the spread can be seen from anywhere on Earth with open skies and a view of the west. To give yourself the best chance, it’s recommended to find a place near a body of water with very few horizon-obscuring objects. Be on time, as Mercury and Jupiter will be the first visible planets to show about 20 to 25 minutes after sunset and then quickly dip below the horizon 25 to 30 minutes later (Jupiter will be the brightest).
Jupiter, Venus, and Mars will be the easiest to spot as they shine the brightest (especially Venus). You can spot Mars hanging near the moon with a reddish glow, while Mercury and Uranus will be dimmer. However, this is a rare chance to spot Uranus, which usually isn’t visible with its green glow. Be sure to bring binoculars! But other than that, the planets can be seen with the naked eye…
“That’s the beauty of these planetary alignments. It doesn’t take much”
While the planetary alignment will occur every night that week, the best viewing will be Tuesday and form a literal line. Tony Rice, NASA ambassador, says the week’s other days “actually provide better opportunities to see Mercury as it puts another degree between it and the horizon through mid-April”
How rare is this occurrence? Well, the celestial lineup happens pretty frequently when the planets line up on one side of the Sun (about once a year, given Mercury’s 88-day orbit and Venus’s 225-day orbit).
“You get to see pretty much the whole solar system in one night,” says Los Angeles astronomer Rory Bentley in Popular Science.