Epic alignment of 5 planets, moon to peak after summer solstice
This rare planetary parade has not been seen since 2004 and won't happen again like this until 2040 -- and the best time to catch it will be just days after the summer solstice.
For the first time since 2004, five planets will create a straight line across the night sky in late June. AccuWeather speaks with Brian Lada about this rare celestial event.
A rare planetary alignment that won't occur again for nearly two decades has taken shape in the night sky, and while it will remain visible through the end of June, viewing the spectacle may be tricky and could require losing some sleep.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have lined up in the early morning sky, a planetary procession that can be seen above the eastern horizon every morning through the end of June. This long-lasting event will give early risers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sights of the planetary quintet.
The last time that all five of these planets were visible in the night sky at the same time was in 2004, the same year that Facebook was created and three years before the first iPhone was released, according to Sky & Telescope magazine.
A telescope is not required to see this month's unique grouping of planets, but it could still be difficult to spot all five, even if the weather is perfect.
The parade of planets will be best seen about 45-60 minutes before sunrise on cloud-free mornings through the end of the month. Since June features some of the earliest sunrises of the entire year, this translates to heading outside before 5 a.m., local time, to look skyward.
Mercury is the most elusive of the planets that can be seen with the naked eye due to its close proximity to the sun. The tiny planet will remain very low on the horizon, so seeing it requires an unimpeded view of the eastern horizon as trees, buildings and mountains all could potentially get in the way.
Venus will be a guide to spotting Mercury, glowing brighter and appearing just above and to the right of the closest planet to the sun. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be much easier to find as they will be higher in the sky.
Although the five planets will appear in a straight line across the sky, this is just what they look like from the perspective of the Earth. In reality, the planets are spread far apart across the solar system.
Image not to scale. The rings of Saturn cannot be seen without a telescope. (AccuWeather)
The five planets will be visible throughout the entire second half of June, but the best morning to look up will be three days after the summer solstice, which took place at 5:13 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, June 21.
The crescent moon will fall in line perfectly with the planets before daybreak on Friday, June 24, glowing directly between Mars and Venus. With the moon in the alignment, photographers may find June 24 to be the best morning to capture images of the celestial objects.
Some photographers have already captured images of the alignment ahead of the moon's early-morning arrival in late June.
As June comes to a close and the calendar flips to July, the planets will begin to space out with Mercury leaving the morning sky altogether.
Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will continue to be prominent pre-dawn planets throughout July, although the quartet will spread farther and farther apart as the month progresses.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will not appear in this order again from the perspective of the Earth until August of 2040, although it will not be nearly as good of a show. The five planets will be bunched closer together in 2040, but it will be even more difficult to spot Mercury compared to this year's alignment since it will be closer to the sun.
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